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Motorcycle Lane-Splitting Legalized in California

California will become the first state in the country to officially legalize motorcycle lane-splitting, although the practice has been allowed for decades.

Assembly Bill 51, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown late Friday, legally defines lane-splitting for the first time, the practice of motorcyclists riding between lanes to move quickly through traffic.

The law, with specifics still to be hammered out by the California Highway Patrol, goes into effect on Jan. 1.

Also called lane-sharing, the practice often sparks tension between motorcyclists who say driving between vehicles keeps them out of danger and helps lessen congestion, and some motorists who say it is reckless and burdens them to be on guard.

“Our primary concern is safety,” said Fran Clader, a spokeswoman for the California Highway Patrol in Sacramento. “We want to do whatever we can to keep motorcyclists and motorists safe. The crux of all this is all motorists need to share the road.”

The CHP’s guidelines will likely cover the maximum speed motorcyclists can go when lane-spitting, and how much faster than the rest of bogged-down traffic they can travel.

“It will be a deliberative process,” Clader said, adding that Highway Patrol will work with the Department of Motor Vehicles, other state agencies and motorcycle-safety organizations.

State Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hayward), who co-authored the bill, said on Monday that CHP officials want to have the guidelines ready within a year.

“They are anxious to get started,” Quirk said. “Driving dangerously is always against the law, but guidelines may give CHP a better idea of what is dangerous.”

Until Brown signed the bill on Friday, lane-splitting was neither explicitly allowed nor prohibited in the law — leading to confusion.

Law-enforcement agencies allow lane-splitting as long as motorcyclists do so safely — as determined by officers. They are not, however, allowed to cross double-yellow lines.

“I hope (the new law) makes things safer and makes drivers think about those around them,” said Christian Meza, 22, of Tustin who has a compact sports motorcycle. “It’ll get us out of their way faster.”

In 2013, the Highway Patrol posted guidelines on its website about the proper way to split lanes: When going between other vehicles, motorcyclists should not travel faster than 30 mph, or 10 mph faster than the rest of traffic.

Those rules were ultimately pulled from the website a year later when someone complained that the lack of lane-splitting legislation meant the CHP did not have the authority to create the guidelines.

“Having structure is really important,” said Marc Cook, editor-in-chief of Motorcyclist Magazine and a 44-year motorcyclist who rides from Long Beach to his Irvine office every day. “There was a perception that we were getting away with something.”

Guillermo Rojas, 53, isn’t keen on the practice.

“I drive a big, tall truck and there’s not a lot of room around it in the lanes,” the Santa Ana resident said, adding that even though he keeps an eye out for motorcyclists, sometimes it seems as if they come out of nowhere. “Now I’m afraid that I might really hit someone if there isn’t much room between us.”

An early version of Assembly Bill 51 had specific rules that would have prohibited lane-splitting above 50 mph and more than 15 mph faster than traffic.

Those initial guidelines aligned with a 2015 study out of UC Berkeley’s Safe Transportation Research and Education Center, which found that lane-splitting is relatively safe if using those speeds.

The study also found that those who lane-split are likely to be experienced and feel safer being in between cars.

“I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve almost been rear-ended by a car when not lane-splitting,” said Cook, the Motorcyclist Magazine editor. “I’m more at risk. For motorists, they get a nick on their car and their airbags go off. I’ll be dead.”

The rules in the early draft were eventually struck from the bill, because the CHP wanted to comprehensively study what would work best, Quirk said.

“This will help motorists know lane-splitting is legal and remind motorcyclists not to go too fast,” he said.

News Source via Daily Bulletin: http://www.dailybulletin.com/general-news/20160822/california-just-became-the-first-state-to-legalize-motorcycle-lane-splitting

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