Uneasy Rider February 2015

Uneasy Rider: Real Talk On AB51 & The Legality Of Lane Splitting

Last month, I shared my frustration with some of the attitudes that flare up around lane splitting laws, and in particular the clanging and banging that some folks are doing about AB51, which would essentially codify the gone but not forgotten CHP guidelines. That led to one of these very people demanding that I rethink CityBike’s role and accusing me—and CityBike—of not being “pro-rider.” Whatever—I’m pro-keeping lane splitting legal, pro-sensible solutions, and anti-bullshit. However, I’m not going to rant again this month, but rather articulate what I think is a sensible mindset on AB51.

Assemblyman Quirk’s office still hasn’t given us an official statement, and the bill hasn’t been heard, but Quirk’s staff told me directly in December that he introduced the bill to address the gray area of lane splitting because of the studies, surveys and media attention. Usually, that language is followed by something to the tune of “make it illegal,” but in this case, Quirk’s looking to basically turn the CHP guidelines into law, with some minor differences which I’ll ignore for now. So while some have called this an anti-lane splitting bill, it’s really not—it would explicitly legalize lane splitting.

Suppose we leave our kneejerk “no new laws!” reactions off to the side for now. We live in the only state in the US where splitting is allowed. California’s vehicle code doesn’t prohibit lane splitting—that which isn’t illegal is legal, so we’re good. We also enjoy support from the CHP and other law enforcement agencies.

Here’s the thing—there are other states where splitting isn’t mentioned, like Arkansas, for example. So why don’t motorcyclists in those states get to enjoy splitting? Easy: no support from law enforcement. The point here is that a shift in the CHP’s position on lane splitting could cascade down to local agencies and result in the same situation here. Unlikely? Definitely. But it’s become a tenuous position, and if the CHP brass were to change their position, there are lots of reasons an officer could write you up for lane splitting, even though it’s legal by reason of not being prohibited.

But back to AB51. Forget that Quirk doesn’t ride for now—it doesn’t really matter, other than being an easy way to attack him since he’s “not one of us.” I know that no one likes politicians, but let’s take this at face value for now—Quirk wants to help us out, wants to keep us safe.

Now, consider two scenarios, one in which we have a legislator that is, in spite of being a non-rider, being pretty pro-rider, although we may not like the specifics of his proposal. In the other, we have a non-riding legislator who will not listen to reason or look at data, and just wants to outlaw splitting.

If you’ve been keeping an eye on lane splitting legislation in other states like I have, you may recall a 2013 Nevada Assembly Transportation Committee hearing on AB236, which would have legalized lane splitting in Nevada, in which Assemblywoman Carlton imagined the results of lane splitting (at about 12:20 in the video below): “I’ve got a kid in the back seat. They roll the window down, they stick their arm out, my kid ends up with a broken arm, the motorcyclist’s guts end up all over the back of my car. Uhm… it just doesn’t seem to me to make a lot of sense. I’m sorry, it doesn’t. It just seems like a very dangerous thing to be doing.”

That’s the kind of thinking we’re up against. The attacks on splitting aren’t going to stop. Doesn’t it make sense to work with a legislator that appears to be on our side, to try to solve the problem by putting a sensible lane splitting law into place now, rather than fight against an all-out attack on splitting later?

Here’s another thing, and this is the Ride Fast Take Chances devil talking. Pass Quirk’s bill, as written today, or with higher speed numbers or whatever we think necessary—doesn’t even matter. The limits will be nearly impossible to enforce, and lane splitting will be officially legal.

Let’s ride.