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Lane splitting while riding a motorcycle is legal in California as long as it’s done safely. Lane splitting is also known as lane sharing, white-lining or filtering and refers to the practice of a motorcyclist weaving between the lanes of slower moving or stopped traffic or riding between lanes to get to the front of the traffic stopped at a light.

Experienced motorcyclists who want to practice lane splitting should abide by the following safety guidelines:

1. Never travel at more than 10 mph faster than the speed of the other traffic on the road. The faster you go, the more dangerous it is.

Motorcycle Lane Splitting
Photo Credit Eric Schmuttenmaer 

  • If you’re a competent motorcyclist travelling at no more than 10 mph faster than other vehicles on the road, you will have enough time to spot and safely react to the most dangerous driving situations you’re likely to face.
  • The faster you’re going over other traffic, the less time you have to spot and react to danger.

2. When the traffic is going 30 mph or faster, it really is not safe to lane split. As speed increases, so does the danger.

  • When going only 20 mph, in the 1 to 2 seconds it would take you to spot a hazard, you will travel another 30 to 60 ft. before being able to start any evasive maneuvers. To actually break or swerve will take more time and distance.
  • The distance it takes to put on the breaks and stop varies quite and depends on a number of factors including, the rider, the type of motorcycle and the environment. 
  • The faster you’re going, the more severe the crash is.

3. It is usually safer to confine your lane splitting to just the #1 and #2 lanes and avoid doing it between the other lanes of traffic.

  • Others using the road are more used to motorcyclists splitting between the lanes the furthest lanes to the left, which are the #1 and #2 lanes.
  • To be safe you should avoid splitting between lanes near freeway exits and on-ramps. 
  • When you notice another motorcyclist splitting lanes near you, avoid splitting because cars may allow more room for them and in doing so, accidently not leave enough room for you to split between lanes.

4. Before splitting, take in your entire environment, the width of each lane, what size the vehicles are surrounding you, the conditions on the road, the weather and if lighting is likely. 

  • Many roads have lanes that are so narrow that there just isn’t enough room to safely split between lanes. If your motorcycle won’t easily fit through, don’t split.
  • Vehicles on the road these days seem to be getting wider. It is not safe to split near large trucks. If you can’t easily fit by, then avoid splitting.  
  • Know your motorcycle’s limitations. If it has wide bars it would require more space, as would fairing and bags. If your motorcycle is just too wide to easily split, then don’t try it.
  • If you’re on an unfamiliar road, it’s best to avoid splitting since you might run into unsafe road surfaces or other unexpected surprises.
  • Wide or uneven seams in the concrete or pavement between lanes pose a hazard.
  • Impaired visibility, due to the weather or from darkness, makes it harder for riders to spot hazards in the road and for drivers to see motorcyclists.
  • Drivers can see you better if you wear brightly colored clothing and protective gear. If you use your high beams in daylight it makes it easier for drivers to spot you.
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5. Stay alert and expect the unexpected. Anticipate that other road users will change lanes and/or make other quick movements.

  • Be aware of what all the cars are doing around you. If a gap or space opens up in the lane next to you, be ready to react accordingly.
  • Be ready to take evasive action when a car changes lanes.
  • Make up for distracted or inattentive drivers by being overly vigilant.
  • Do not weave in and out of lanes or ride directly on top of a lane line.
  • Avoid lingering in someone’s blind spot.
  • Never ride your motorcycle while impaired, whether by fatigue, drugs or alcohol.
  • Continually scan your environment for possible changes.

The 4 Rs or Rules of Lane Splitting:

Be Reasonable, Responsible, Respectful and aware of the Roadway and traffic conditions.  

  1. Be Reasonable – Never ride more than 10 mph faster than the flow of traffic and never more than 39 mph.
  2. Be Responsible – You are the one responsible for your safety and the decisions you make. Do not put yourself in harms way by avoiding dangerous situations. If you can’t fit between the lanes, don’t split.
  3. Be Respectful – Understand that you must share the road too, that this goes both ways. Loud pipes will not necessarily keep you safe and often startle others. Loud pipes can cause drivers to have a negative view of motorcyclists. Other vehicles on the road have no requirement to make space for a motorcyclist trying to lane split.
  4. Roadways can be hazardous – Traffic on the road is always unpredictable. The pavement can be uneven, drivers get distracted, there are wide trucks to deal with, the weather can change in an instant, the road can dip and curve in unexpected ways, etc. Be careful on the roadway.

When NOT to Lane Split

  • If you won’t fit
  • When lining up at a toll booth
  • When traffic is unpredictable or moving too quickly
  • If the road conditions are dangerous: road under construction, grit or water making the road slippery, metal grates, uneven pavement, etc.
  • If an SUV or van is blocking your view or you otherwise can’t see where you’re going clearly
  • Between wide vehicles like buses, trucks and RVs
  • When going through or around curves
  • When tired or not totally sure of your surroundings
  • If you’re not able to instantly react under changing conditions
  • When you aren’t feeling comfortable about the situation

Safety Tips for Those Driving Other Vehicles

  • Motorcyclists are legally allowed to lane split in California if done prudently and safely.
  • It is not right for a motorist to discourage or prevent a motorcyclist from lane splitting. For a motorist to intentionally impede or block a motorcyclist in a manner that could be harmful to the rider is against the law (CVC 22400).
  • Opening your car door to block a motorcycle is against the law (CVC 22517).
  • Do not get behind the wheel when distracted.
  • Check your mirrors and blind spots before turning or changing lanes
  • Use your turn signal before merging into traffic or changing lanes
  • Allow yourself more following distance, perhaps 3 to 4 seconds, when driving behind a motorcycle so it has ample time to maneuver or even stop if necessary.


  1. These guidelines are designed to keep you safer, but there is no guarantee that they will keep you totally safe because riding a motorcycle can be dangerous in the best of circumstances.
    Inexperienced riders should never lane split. These guidelines are meant for people with a great deal of riding experience and who are very competent riders.
  2. The recommendations provided in these general guidelines do not cover all possible scenarios on the road, as there are too many combinations of variables and situations to imagine.
  3. Every rider is personally responsible for their own decisions with regard to their safety. Riders should at all times, consciously try to reduce their risk of crashing. California law requires that all motorcyclists and their passengers wear a DOT FMVSS 218 compliant helmet.  
  4. Motorcycle riders who lane split are responsible for obeying all traffic laws; otherwise they risk getting a ticket. Regarding any law enforcement action, it is up to the Law Enforcement Officer to decide whether lane splitting is or was being done safely and prudently.

To a motorcycle accident attorney the injuries that can result from motorcycle accidents are routinely catastrophic; including, brain and spinal cord injuries; fractures; abrasions; internal and soft tissue injuries; and severe burn injuries.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a motorcycle accident and would like to speak with an attorney, please contact us.


Published on behalf of O'Connor, Runckel & O'Malley LLP

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