California drivers largely ignorant of motorcycle lane splitting laws

Posted by

An accident scene, where a car's rear bumper was smashed in by a motorcycle that is in the foreground.

Distracted motorists who don't know traffic laws make the road more dangerous for motorcycles. (Photo Credit: Public Domain/love krittaya/Wikipedia)

A recent survey conducted by the California Office of Traffic Safety suggests that most motorists in the state don’t have a clue about how to be safe around motorcycles. In particular, the majority of California drivers are ignorant of lane splitting rules for motorcyclists, which can lead to traffic accidents.

Lane splitting is legal in California

Lane splitting, or the act of a motorcycle or other small vehicle driving between cars in adjacent lanes on the highway, is legal in California, but not in many other states. A majority of drivers polled were not aware of this. A minority 7 percent of those polled in the OTS Motorcycle Lane Splitting survey went so far as to admit that they were aware of the law but took active steps to block the way so that lane splitting was exceedingly unsafe or impossible. Thirty percent of drivers admit to being distracted, with 32.5 percent of those acknowledging that they don’t even check their mirrors for approaching motorcycles.

Motorcyclists’ side of the story

On the flip side of the coin, the vast majority of California motorcycle riders polled – 84.4 percent – claimed they had never been involved in an accident as a result of lane splitting. Among those drivers who did admit to lane splitting on a regular basis did it on freeways (77.6 percent) more than surface streets (45.9 percent). Motorcyclists who practice lane splitting techniques are more likely to be hit on the freeway (11.7 percent) than surface streets (8.3 percent).

Only 1.7 percent of motorcyclists polled by the California Office of Traffic Safety admitted to attempting lane splitting when surrounding traffic as traveling at 70 mph or faster. When motorcyclists traveling in traffic of any speed do decide to lane split, 42.1 percent do so at 10 mph or more above the flow of traffic.

Results you might expect

The OTS Motorcycle Lane Splitting survey conducted by the California Office of Traffic Safety compiled a great deal of demographic data regarding motorcycle riders. A whopping 93.4 percent are male and 30.4 percent of motorcycle owners fall within the age group of 45 to 54 years of age. Leisure trips are the most common use for motorcycles (45.9 percent), yet a combination of leisure and business commute usage is not uncommon at 30.8 percent.

[Car financing for bad credit]

Ride more, split more

The occurrence of lane splitting tends to increase the more time a motorcyclist spends on the road. That’s why a dash of motorcycle safety methods are essential for drivers who wish to keep themselves and less-protected neighbors on the roadway safe. Here are some ideas:

  1. Survey the area via mirrors and looking over your shoulder to ensure that blind spots are clear. Only if you are clear to do so should you the driver signal and change lanes. Even if you see a signal on a motorcycle, don’t assume you know where they’re going, as the turn signal on a bike is often not self-canceling.
  2. Allow greater following distance. It should be at least three or four seconds.
  3. Don’t tailgate. During a dry summer, a motorcycle can stop more quickly than cars, which can create a series of roadway problems.
  4. Don’t drive when the weather is poor. Visibility and stopping time are both increased.
  5. Motorcyclists should wear bright protecting gear, including a jacket, helmet and pads.
  6. Motorcyclists should make their lane position conspicuous to nearby drivers.
  7. Nobody should drive while impaired.

Motorcycle safety tips (Note: Severe accidents and injuries)



Hell for Leather

OTS Motorcycle Lane Splitting


  1. Gixxerlicious on

    Don’t tailgate. During a dry summer, a motorcycle CANNOT stop more
    quickly than cars, which can create a series of roadway problems.