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Is Californian lane splitting safe?

Lane filtering lane splitting

Lane filtering lane splittingCalifornia is the first US state to allow lane splitting, with riders possibly allowed to split lanes at up to 50mph (80km/h) but no faster than 15mph (24km/h) more than surrounding traffic.

Over the past two years, the three eastern states of Australia have introduced lane filtering between stationary or slow-moving traffic and the ACT is running a trial ending in January 2017.

While the rules vary from state to state, making it easy for interstate riders to unwittingly run foul of the law, they all limit filtering to 30km/h. (Read the various lane filtering rules at the end of this article.)

Some believe 30km/h is too low, but few would advocate filtering at up to 80km/h!

The lane-splitting rules in California have not actually been set yet.

As in Australia, there were no rules against sharing or splitting lanes, but unlike Australia, the California Highway Patrol (Remember the 1970s TV motorcycle chop show, CHiPs?) turned a blind eye to it.

However, when high-speed lane-splitting became more prevalent, CHiPs developed guidelines for lane splitting with the help of a committee of road safety “experts”.

Their proposal in 2012 was for lane-splitting motorcycles to not exceed 15mph (24km/h) more than the surrounding traffic with a maximum motorcycle speed of 50mph.

When someone complained that they were “underground” guidelines”, they were revoked.lane-spliting lane filtering

Now the Californian government has passed a law allowing CHiPs to set the rules for lane splitting, so we expect that the original speed limits may apply.

California tends to set the agenda for the rest of the country, so we expect some other states to start introducing lane splitting.

Several US states have already discussed introducing the rules with varying ideas on the allowed speeds, some suggesting riders can only travel 5mph faster than the surrounding traffic.

While it would be great to have some sort of uniformity in the laws, we understand that not every state has similar roads. For example, California does tend to have much wider roads than other states and massive highways that frequently become jammed with traffic.

What we don’t understand is how a rider can accurately measure the speed difference between themselves and the traffic and how the police can accurately monitor the speed difference.

At 15mph faster than the surrounding traffic, it would take a rider about three seconds to pass a semi trailer. At a 5mph disparity, it would take about nine seconds.

Mexico filtering

That’s an awfully long and dangerous time to be riding alongside a truck at 50mph on a white lane between highway lanes.

We do hope these rules don’t cause any high-speed crashes, but we can see they may lead to a lot of disputed fines over police interpretations of the rules and perceptions of speed.

In the meantime, all riders should consider lane filtering and lane splitting rules as a privilege, not a right, and ride with caution and respect for other motorists.

This will ensure that everyone views it as a benefit to all traffic.

If you don’t agree with lane filtering/splitting or think it is unsafe, then don’t do it. It’s not mandatory!

What do you think of the Californian lane-splitting proposal? Have you say in the “Leave your comment” box below.Lane filtering





  1. The only rule any rider should obey is protect your hide.
    Often this means obeying the road rules and speed limits etc but often it means the opposite.
    The number of motorcyclists who are now dead or permanently injured because they obeyed the road rules is ridiculous.
    Many of the rules of the road are either created by car drivers with no thought to other types of vehicles or by safety experts who live in a lab and have no clue of the real world or worse still the revenue hungry who look for things that they can make a rule against to fine you for breaking it.
    Lane splitting looks scary and dangerous and can startle dozy drivers (which is the only real danger as they can panic and do something stupid) but believe it or not the faster you and the traffic are going the safer it is! Traffic travelling at highway speed is very predictable and very unlikely to suddenly alter direction such as sudden lane changes or sudden stops .
    Even if a driver were to deliberately try to block or squeeze a filtering / splitting bike the faster the traffic and the greater the speed difference the harder it is to do usually by the time the driver has noticed the bike and decided to do something stupid the bike has already gone by. The only danger that is greater at higher speed is the likelihood of being run over if you came off , but provided you are not being stupid and not skylarking coming off is far less likely than at lower speeds.

  2. With the size of my bike and it’s value there is no way that I am going to try lane splitting in Australia as I really don’t trust Australian car drivers. Anyway I am usually not in that much hurry as long as I get to my destination alive. But it is certainly a good idea with the smaller commuter bikes as long as the various state governments to their job and spend some money on educating drivers, especially pointing out the advantages to car drivers in clearing out some of the traffic slowing them at traffic lights as bikes move off quicker than cars. If drivers get educated to the advantages to them it might prevent road rage which seems to happen overseas regarding legal and illegal lane splitting.

  3. When Eastern states of Australia decided to make lane filtering legal they had to define what is the difference between Lane Filtering and lane Splitting. they of course looked all over the world where all three forms motorcycle traffic riding is done. Yes there is another.. Counter flow lane splitting? (I think its called) < Anyway its totally illegal in Australia..
    They decided on Lane Filtering and defined it as "Lane filtering is when you ride your motorcycle at low speed between stationary or slow moving vehicles travelling in the same direction you are. The 2 lines or lanes of traffic must both be travelling in the same direction. If one of the lines or lanes is a dedicated turning lane (left or right) you must not lane filter using this lane and your speed when filtering is 30kph or less and if it's safe to do so" any speed above 30kph is Lane Splitting… The Qld link is above. With my Californian friends they say we are Lane Splitting here in Oz they seem to miss the speed limit fact of the 30kph (18mph) speed limit.. They lane split, their drivers are use to motorcyclist going past fast for years since the '70's for the love of god. Here I know what the speed is for lane filtering but I still will sit at 20kph just because I know there is that one idiot driver that thinks its illegal and he's doing the community a service by stopping me, the jealous driver and of course the driver who thinks driving a car is a right, not a privilege, oh and that 4WD owner that thinks all of the above, I keep an wary eye on 4WD's. I know we have come across one of them from time to time.

  4. Good rules. I find the 30kmhr limit dangerous. You are too often in and out of the traffic. I think around the 50 mark is sensible and as always only when safe to do so.

  5. I feel like we could bump up the limit to 50 when riding on a shoulder as we do in QLD.

  6. I lived in California for six years and never had any problem lane splitting. It requires extra awareness of possible lane changes by cars, but most drivers expect bikes to be splitting. All in all, I found riding in SF Bay area traffic to be pretty good, and I was always glad to be able to get through traffic jams.

  7. I commute daily from the outer northern suburbs into Brisbane city daily. The many of major arterials are too narrow to lane split at any great speed. Most often I feel like I’m on a 30kmph slalom, then there’s the SMIDSY one blink and move lane changer. We are classified as vulnerable road users, sometimes we have like ride that way.

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