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Sharing the Road with California Motorcyclists

Riding a motorcycle is dangerous anywhere, but it’s especially dangerous in certain parts of California. Southern California is known for lots of cars and nightmarish traffic jams, but it’s also got more than its fair share of motorcycle fatalities. In 2018, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune reported that motorcycle deaths are so routine they barely make the news.

If you drive a car, you already have an advantage over motorcyclists. You have a lot more mass to protect you in case of an accident, among other things. Motorcyclists can be speedy and hard to detect, but you should always try to stay aware of them. Here’s what you need to know about sharing the roadways with motorcyclists in California.

Lane splitting in California

You’ve no doubt seen lane splitting, even if you’ve never heard the term before. Lane splitting in CA occurs when a motorcyclist rides the lane between two cars to pass both of them. It’s frustrating for drivers in cars to see, because it looks like the motorcyclist is getting away with breaking some sort of law. However, lane splitting is entirely legal in California.

That being said, lane splitting isn’t always safe. It’s not something a motorcyclist should attempt on a fast-moving freeway, because that’s much more likely to lead to an accident. Maneuvering a motorcycle in-between two much bigger cars is a delicate task that shouldn’t be done unless the person behind the wheel really knows what they’re doing. It’s not a trick for newbie riders to try.

Before 2017, lane splitting in California wasn’t really addressed by existing laws. California Highway Patrol troopers used their judgment to determine if someone was lane-splitting in a smart way that reduced congestion, or if they were doing it in a reckless way that increased that chances of an accident. But after 2017, a law was placed on the books that declared lane-splitting to be perfectly fine in the Golden State.

It’s currently the only state in the country with a law that specifically says lane-splitting is okay. Other states outright ban it, while a few other states don’t mention it at all in their driving laws.

Lane splitting accidents

Motorcyclists have a reputation for being wild and taking unnecessary risks. Part of that stems from the fact that riding a motorcycle is, by its very nature, much riskier than getting behind the wheel of a sedan or SUV.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that traffic deaths occur 28 times more often on motorcycles than they do in other vehicles. That’s a scary, sobering statistic, but it doesn’t mean motorcyclists are out there with a death wish; in many cases, they’re doing the best they can. They’re following the laws and paying attention to cars. But that doesn’t mean people in cars are doing the same thing.

If you’re in a car and see a motorcycle whiz by, you may very well think they’re not riding smartly. But while speeding isn’t smart, you’re not a better driver just because you’ve got a full metal cage protecting you in case of an accident.

But what if a motorcyclist is attempting to lane split right as you’re attempting to make a lane change? Who’s responsible for causing the accident in that case? A lot depends on the particular road conditions at that point in time. Police will respond to the scene and try to determine responsibility based on the facts at hand. They’ll interview each driver. Insurance companies will also perform their own investigation.

In some cases, figuring out fault might be easy, especially if a rainstorm made lane splitting riskier than usual. In other cases, answers will be a lot less clear, and the drivers might even share fault.