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Whether you ride motorcycles, or simply share the road with them, a working knowledge of motorcycle safety is absolutely essential: preventable collisions between motorcycles and other vehicles are commonplace in California. But do you know how to keep yourself safe on California roads?

One essential roadway consideration in California is "lane splitting." Lane splitting is the practice of moving forward on the road sandwiched by slower moving vehicles that are traveling in the same direction. Essentially, lane splitting involves motorcycles passing between the lanes of stopped or slow traffic.

Although many motorists are not aware of it, lane splitting is completely legal in California. According to the California Highway Patrol, the only stipulation is that lane splitters must go about the practice in a "safe and prudent manner."

There is no portion of the California Vehicle Code that directly addresses lane splitting. The mode relevant code section may be CVC 21658, which states in part that vehicles shall not move from a lane "until such movement can be made with reasonable safety."

So why is lane splitting allowed in California? Historically, lane splitting was permitted because older motorcycles had air-cooled engines that needed to keep moving to prevent overheating. Today, these mechanical considerations have faded into memory. Now, lane splitting is a matter of safety.

Several years ago, a group of California lawmakers introduced a bill to make lane splitting illegal, thinking it would save lives. However, the bill crumbled under intense lobbying from the California Highway Patrol. The CHP claimed that more bikers would die if they were forced to wait behind slow moving or stopped vehicles; inattentive drivers who fail to notice stopped traffic ahead frequently cause rear end collisions, a type of crash that is almost always fatal if a motorcycle is the lead vehicle. Today, lane splitting remains legal in California to help protect bikers.

But even if motorcyclists are careful and operate within the confines of the law, lane splitting is not without its dangers. The California Office of Traffic Safety recently released an in-depth study on lane splitting called the 2012 Motorcycle 'Lane Splitting' Intercept Survey. The findings raise some serious concerns about rider safety.

Of the motorcyclists interviewed by the Office of Traffic Safety, 77.6 percent reported that they split lanes when riding. Of those, about half reported that they "always" or "often" lane split on freeways, while the other 50 percent "sometimes" or "rarely" split lanes.

Lane splitting accidents are relatively common. More than one in ten motorcyclists - 11.7 percent - said a vehicle has hit them while they were lane splitting. An additional 3.2 percent reported that they have hit a vehicle. Near misses were even more frequent: of those motorcyclists who have never been in a lane splitting accident, 45.2 percent reported "nearly" coming in contact with another vehicle.

There are a variety of ways drivers of passenger vehicles can impede lane splitting, sometime with deadly results. Car drivers may suddenly change lanes without looking, may neglect to signal their lane changes or may even open a door into the path of an oncoming motorcyclist. Motorcycle riders cited drivers not looking in mirrors and distracted drivers as the two most serious threats to their safety while lane splitting.

Even though lane splitting is legal and widely practiced, some motorists apparently do not view it favorably: 67.2 percent of riders surveyed reported that a driver of another vehicle has attempted to prevent them from passing while lane splitting.

Whether drivers intentionally get in the way of lane splitting or are simply not paying attention, all too often motorcyclists must bear the consequences. Riders can take some measures to protect themselves - like wearing a DOT approved helmet, dressing in highly visible clothing, obeying all traffic laws, and being cautious around other vehicles. But even the most careful riders can be injured through no fault of their own.

If you or someone you love has been involved in a motorcycle accident, it is important to call a California motorcycle accident attorney in order to recover the maximum amount possible based on the law and the facts of your individual case. Contact a lawyer today to learn more about your right to compensation.

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The Injury Law Center - Law Offices of Jack Bloxham is a personal injury plaintiff law firm that represents clients in negligence and wrongful death litigation related to motor vehicle accidents of all kinds in the Greater Bay Area of Northern California; most notably in Alameda County, Contra Costa County, Santa Clara County, and Solano County. The Injury Law Center has offices in San Jose, Walnut Creek, Fremont - Hayward, and Oakland. If you are handicapped and unable to come to one of our offices we will come to you. We're usually just minutes away if you live in San Jose, San Francisco, Pittsburg, Richmond, Dublin, Concord, Fairfield, Benicia, Vallejo, Los Gatos, Napa, Pleasanton, Livermore, Antioch, Walnut Creek, Hayward, Fremont, Union City, Santa Cruz, San Mateo or other nearby Bay Area town or city.