Lane Splitting: Hazard or Helper?

The practice of lane splitting has become a hot-button topic over the last few years here in California. While state law does not expressively prohibit lane splitting, the law does not deem it legal either. This means that those who choose to participate in the activity venture into a legal grey area that has become a source of contention, especially in accident cases.

Although last year saw the passage of Assembly Bill 51 through the Assembly, the bill that was supposed to make lane splitting legal in California eventually stalled out in the Senate. With Assemblyman Bill Quirk's promise to resurrect the bill this year, some are wondering if and when lane splitting will become a reality in our state.

The question of safety

The main source of contention in the debate over lane splitting is whether the practice is truly safe or not. On one side of the issue, we have groups like the Personal Insurance Federation of California who say that lane splitting laws could improve public safety and therefore reduce the number of injured motorcyclists each year. In addition, some have pointed out that lane splitting relieves congestion in the lane of traffic and moves motorcyclists into an area where they are less likely to be struck by a distracted motorist.

On the other side of the issue, are those who believe that regardless of where motorcyclists are on the road, their risk of being stuck by a negligent or distracted driver is still present. Some point out too that even at slow speeds, which lane splitting laws would enforce, a rider may still suffer injuries that require medical attention.

Lane splitting and liability

Although the current state of lane splitting guidelines raise questions about negligence and liability, which come into play in accident cases, passage of AB 51 would clarify when a driver has violated the law and when a motorcyclist has. Our state's comparative negligence laws will of course still apply, but with AB 51, it will be easier to apply the law and help accident victims recover the fair amount of compensation they deserve.

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