The passing of the AB-51 bill in 2016 caused a bit of an uproar, but no doubt it finally made lane splitting legal, where it previously was not illegal (confusing? I know). No longer do you have to worry if a CHP officer will cite you at his discretion for reckless driving, at least we hope. The bill also allows the CHP to issue guidelines on safe lane splitting etiquette and education, to both riders and drivers. The California Motorist Safety Program has a guideline for safe lane splitting etiquette.
Now, on to the guide:
It’s worth noting that some riders lane split and some don’t – it’s all personal preference. I used to think it depending on the size of your motorcycle, but I’ve seen huge Road Glides split and others chose to stay in their lane behind cars. Do you, boo.
Have you ever seen a motorcycle ride between cars at incredibly fast and dangerous speeds? Like they literally zoom through as if they were on a race track? Yea, don’t do that. I never lane split in anything other than first or second gear (30mph at most).
Safety guidelines in the past have noted that you should not split over 15mph of the speed of traffic, and never split when traffic speeds exceed 30mph. In this scenario, if you are in gridlock traffic where cars are not moving, you should filter at a speed of 15mph. If cars are moving at 10mph, you should filter at a speed of 25mph, and so on. I’ve seen people filter at higher, but still safe-ish, speeds, but I err on the side of caution.
In an event where a car unexpectedly tries to switch lanes, I want to be able to stop quickly and safely in time, so riding at slower speeds helps me do that. Another way to think about it – would you rather a car swipe you at a slow speed (where you fall over and break your ankle) or a fast speed (where you get flung onto oncoming traffic and die)?
Filtering at slow speeds also gives me a better gauge in determining if I actually fit between cars. There are many people who have taken out mirrors with their huge fairings, but if I were to side swipe a mirror to pass through, my bike would get the brunt of the damage and I’d probably bend my handlebars and brake my hand.
I’m a believer of loud pipes saving lives, so I’d rather travel slowly between cars so they have a chance to see or hear me and hopefully move over, sometimes with the help of some revving.
I think filtering in highway traffic is much easier than filtering through city streets. On the highway, I only filter between lane #1 and #2 (farthest left lanes) and only focus on what cars on either lane are going to do (we’ll talk about rider to rider etiquette in a second). When I filter through city streets, I filter through the farthest left lanes, but you have to be aware of left turn only lanes, right turn only lanes, merging from every direction, crossing traffic, pedestrians, stop signs, lights, etc. There is way more going on in city streets that makes filtering more stressful.
If you are going to filter through the city, know your route and pay attention to signs. Don’t be a rider (or driver) that tries to change 2 lanes over at the last minute to make a turn. Know when merging lanes are approaching and prepare for that.
Whenever you reach a standstill/stoplight, filter to the front to get out of harms way. I think the most common rider to driver accident is rear ending, so eliminate yourself from that situation entirely by filtering to the front instead of being stuck behind a car. Pay attention to your rear if you do get stuck behind a car. Be prepared to exit a potentially harmful situation by being in gear and even flickering your brake lights to let the car approaching from behind know that you are there.
Be mindful of what other cars are doing as well. If the cars to your left and right are coming to an abrupt stop in the middle of the road or before a crosswalk, slow down. A pedestrian or animal could be crossing and you might not be able to see them yet.
When filtering through slow or gridlock traffic, pay attention to a car’s tires. If they are turned in, as if they are getting ready to change lanes, be prepared. Make eye contact with the driver. Just because your bike is loud doesn’t mean they can hear you. Don’t assume they see you.
On occasion, you might not be the only one lane splitting either. Even though you should be focusing on what is ahead of you doesn’t mean you should neglect your mirrors. If you see a motorcycle approaching you, be prepared to slow down and move into the lane to allow them to pass. Other riders might be filtering faster than you so get out of their way.
If I ever encounter another person filtering and we are travelling around the same speeds, I will make an effort to move out of the way and then continue to filter behind them. This way, more cars are aware that there are multiple motorcycles passing through and we stick together. Leave space in between though!
Highway HOV lane:
In most highways of California, you will encounter an HOV lane. While motorcycles are allowed to ride in carpool lanes, be aware of crossing HOV lines. On some highways, the carpool lane is marked by a dotted white line, solid white line, or solid double yellow lines. It is illegal to cross solid white and double yellow lines.
In the image above you can see the normal lanes on the left and the HOV lane on the right. If you are going to filter here, you will need to share the HOV lane. That means when you pass a car, you both have to be in the HOV lane. You cannot ride back and forth between the HOV lane and lane #1. There is enough room in the HOV lane for cars to move over and you can ride by.
I have seen people ride between the double yellow lines, and I have also seen CHP officers ride between the lines too. Be aware that if you do ride between the lines, you are subject to citation at your CHP’s discretion. Avoid the risk of a ticket by sharing the HOV lane.
It’s also important to note that I have seen cars illegally cross these double lines in heavy traffic. I’ve seen many videos of motorcycle accidents caused by such driving and it is scary common. So when you are lane sharing, this line isn’t going to protect you. Be just as cautious to drivers on the other side of the lines that will try to cut you off at any moment’s notice.
Drivers, if you see a motorcycle approaching, move over! Don’t hug the right most part of the lane. I’m not saying a driver should drive on the shoulder and risk getting a punctured tire with the debris on the side of the road, but there is enough space for a rider to pass through if you hug the left most part of the lane.
When I am in a car, I am hyper aware of motorcycles, especially in bumper to bumper traffic. I make more of an effort to look at my mirrors and move over whenever I see or hear a motorcycle approaching. I’m not doing anything else while I’m stuck in traffic, so might as well pay it forward and move over.
Don’t block lanes either. If you are stuck in traffic and need to switch lanes, don’t block two lanes and prohibit a rider to pass through. Change lanes when you are moving, not when you are stopped.
It’s also important to note that even though lane filtering is legal, some people still get massive road rage when they see a motorcycle filter through them. Do not engage with an angry driver. Even if they yell or flip you off, remove yourself from that situation. I’ve seen videos where a driver pulls out a gun on a filtering rider for no reason whatsoever. If someone tries to purposefully block you with their car, or attempt to hit you with their car, that is assault with a deadly weapon. If a person is going to get upset that you are filtering, they can get a motorcycle and filter as well. Nobody is forcing them to drive a car.
Pro Tip: get yourself a GoPro or action camera and record when you are riding, especially if you will be lane filtering. If you do get assaulted by a driver, you have more proof/evidence to get them fined, suspend their license, and/or put them in jail.
And don’t text and drive/ride.