In a time when it seems that every state in the country is emphasizing motorcycle safety rules for both the cyclists and other motorists, California seems to have taken a step in the other direction.
Lane-splitting, when cyclists ride between lanes of traffic when it is stalled or moving slowly, is legal in California. For a little more than a year and until recently, the California Highway Patrol had guidelines for safe lane-splitting posted on its website and had printed materials to distribute. But the guidelines have been removed from the website and the printed materials have been destroyed.
The move was prompted by a complaint that, by appearing on the state website, the rules could be interpreted as laws rather than just guidelines. Since the CHP cannot actually enforce the guidelines, they were removed to avoid any confusion.
While some drivers of other vehicles may be irritated by the ability of the cyclists to navigate through traffic jams while everyone else is seemingly stuck, the fact is that the lane-splitting guidelines were originally prompted by safety concerns for the cyclists. Older motorcycles had a propensity to overheat if they sat still for a while. Although that is not the same problem that it used to be, lane-splitting is still considered to improve safety for cyclists to prevent being struck from behind by another vehicle.
The removal of the guidelines does not make lane-splitting illegal, but even when it is done legally motorcyclists should use common sense when using the maneuver. A distracted driver may not see the motorcycle on the side of his or her vehicle.
Whether one is lane-splitting, or enjoying a pleasant ride along the roadway, motorcyclists are already particularly vulnerable on the roadways. Due to the size of a motorcycle in comparison to other vehicles on the road, motorcyclists are especially susceptible to serious injury and even death in the event of an accident. Even though other vehicles on the road may cause motorcycle accidents, it is generally motorcyclists and their loved ones who are ultimately left to cope with the devastating consequences of a crash.
Source: SF Gate, "Motorcyclists revved up about removal of lane-splitting guidelines," Carolyn Jones and Kale Williams, July 24, 2014