California became the first state to make lane-splitting by motorcyclists legal when Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 51 into law Friday, authorizing the California Highway Patrol to develop guidelines for the motorcyclists who delight in weaving in and out of traffic.
“It’s an affirmation that lane-splitting is legal,” said Tim Townsend, Capitol director for Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, who co-authored the bill with Assemblyman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward.
The bill defines lane-splitting in the Vehicle Code as “two wheels in contact with the ground, between rows of stopped or moving vehicles in the same lane.” Previously, lane-splitting was in a legally gray area, neither forbidden nor expressly allowed.
The CHP had guidelines for lane-splitting back in 2013 that said motorcyclists should not lane-split when traffic is going faster than 30 mph and should stay within 10 mph of the speed of traffic while between lanes. After a complaint that argued that the CHP had no authority to regulate the practice, the guidelines were taken down.
An earlier version of AB 51 included a provision based on data from a 2014 UC Berkeley study that would have prevented lane-splitting in traffic moving faster than 50 mph and required bikers to stay within 15 mph of other vehicles. The provision was removed to allow the CHP to develop its own rules.
Townsend said that CHP officers currently have a great deal of discretion in deciding when lane-splitting becomes reckless driving, a misdemeanor, and that the new guidelines would “take away some of the subjectivity.”
A spokesperson for the CHP said the department was “aware of the legislation” but that it was too early to release any further information.