If you’ve ever had the pleasure of riding in California—notably Southern California—more than likely you’ve faced the same frustration nearly every Southern California resident experiences, our horrendous traffic. What we lack in bad weather, we more than make up for with shitty traffic. SoCal (Los Angeles specifically) regularly tops lists as having the worst traffic in the nation. As a motorcyclist in California, the one saving grace we have to help combat sitting in traffic is the ability to split lanes. For non-California residents, it may have scared the hell out of you the first time a rider squeezed past you on one of our roadways, but don’t worry, according to a survey released this past May by the California Office of Traffic Safety, apparently only 53 percent of California motorists and 87 percent of motorcyclists knew lane-splitting was legal.
For those not familiar with the practice, also referred to as lane sharing, filtering, or white-lining, it’s when a motorcyclist takes up the space between two lanes heading the same direction. The California Driver handbook states, “Motorcycles may travel faster than traffic during congested road conditions and can legally travel in the unused space between two lines of moving or stationary vehicles.” And while it is a legal practice, laws regulating it are rather vague, as the California Highway Patrol states, “Lane-splitting is permissible if done in a safe and prudent manner.”
My one-way commute to the office is a 50-mile route along five different freeways. Typically my trip to the office takes less time than my commute home; apparently everyone starts at different times in the morning, but we all seem to clock out around the same time. Riding the motorcycle and splitting lanes can usually save me anywhere between 30-60 minutes either way. The route I take consists mostly of freeways that feature a carpool (HOV) lane, which fortunately motorcycles are allowed to ride in. When commuting, actually whenever I ride on California freeways, I typically ride in the carpool lane as it often provides the most space when riding through traffic.
If you’ve never done it, lane splitting can be nerve racking. But after some time you get used to it. Ok, maybe not used to it, but you gain more confidence and become better at it. However, it’s that confidence that can get you. While there is no specific law as to how fast you can travel, from what I’ve heard from CHP officers, they look to ticket motorcyclists for splitting lanes at speeds faster than 25 mph or 5 mph faster than the speed of traffic. Once you get some lane-splitting experience under your belt, it’s easy to slip into a pattern of rolling at speeds above 5 mph the surrounding traffic. I see it everyday.
Like helmet laws, lane-splitting is a controversial topic for both motorcyclists and non-motorcyclists. There hasn’t been a study performed in the US specifically on the subject, so there are no conclusive results as to its risks/benefits. But I’m glad I live in California where it’s accepted and I wish it was accepted in all states. I would rather be moving between traffic rather than sitting in-between two bumpers waiting to be smashed like a soda can by an inattentive driver behind me.
Arguments against splitting lanes often revolve around topics such as drivers not seeing you, switching lanes, and essentially cutting you off. Or, large vehicles like busses or tractor-trailers consuming large portions of a lane and squeezing you out. Also people will argue that you could startle a driver and then have to deal with their unexpected reactions. Then there’s the possibility of someone opening his/her door in your path.
My response to these concerns are, many times I’ve been traveling in my own lane that just happened to be moving faster than the lane next to me and someone absolutely had to get in there as well, essentially cutting me off because they “didn’t see me.” Actually this has happened to me in my truck as well, with the same excuse given I’m sure. Oh and just the other day while riding home I had a guy cut across two lanes to get into my lane because it was moving faster. Luckily there was a wide shoulder to the left for me to maneuver around him. When I slowed down and gave him a look back, he just shrugged his shoulders. You can safely maneuver around large vehicles, the key is to approach slowly, make sure the driver sees you and is aware of your intentions, then make your move when space between the two lanes allow. If you’re startled by a motorcycle splitting lanes you obviously weren’t paying attention to begin with. You should always be aware of your surroundings and constantly checking your mirrors, especially in traffic. And as for a door opening in your path, why is someone opening his/her door while driving down the road?
After years of splitting lanes, I’ve learned to pay attention to my surroundings, scan my mirrors, and always look for an “out” in the event that things suddenly go bad. I try to pay attention to the cars in front of me, watch people’s heads and their side mirrors—you can sometimes tell by their head movement if someone is going to make a move. And anticipate sudden lane changes by other drivers when there are gaps in traffic. Obviously staying mindful of that 25/5 mph parameter is highly important as well. The most important thing I’ve come to learn is: expect the unexpected. People do dumb stuff all the time when on the road, yes, even motorcyclists.
Bottom line is, no matter if you’re splitting lanes, riding in you’re own lane, or even driving a car/truck you have no control over what another motorists is going to do, all you can only react. And if I approach traffic and have the opportunity, I prefer to split it.
I’d like to hear your thoughts, opinions, or experiences on lane-splitting. Shoot me an email.
Until next time,