Lane Splitting on the Bay Bridge. Photo: Surj Gish.

California Lane Splitting Tips Finally Released

After over two years of waiting since AB 51, the bill that formalized lane splitting in California, passed, we finally have formal lane splitting guidelines in California, now called “Lane Splitting Safety Tips.” CHP has not issued a press release yet, but we’ve been given an email from Sergeant Joseph Godman of the California Highway Patrol Motorcycle Safety Unit with a fuzzy PDF of the “approved document” attached. Interestingly, the document sports a revision date of June 2018, meaning these tips have likely been gathering dust while awaiting approval on some bureaucrat’s desk for the last few months.

As reported in our coverage of the Spring 2018 CMSP Advisory Committee Meeting back in May, we were told to expect very general tips, compared to the specifics of the original CHP guidelines, and that’s what we got: the new tips are very non-specific, with no speed limit or speed differential specified.

Advice is offered for both riders and drivers, preceded by a disclaimer that lane splitting is dangerous and should not be performed by noobs. The full PDF is below, in all its shit-res glory, but here are the rider-specific tips:

  • Consider the total environment when you are lane splitting (this includes the width of lanes, the size of surrounding vehicles, as well as current roadway, weather, and lighting conditions).
  • Danger increases at higher speed differentials.
  • Danger increases as overall speed increases.
  • It is typically safer to split between the far left lanes than between the other lanes of traffic.
  • Avoid lane splitting next to large vehicles (big rigs, buses, motorhomes, etc.).
  • Riding on the shoulder is illegal; it is not considered lane splitting.
  • Be visible—Avoid remaining in the blind spots of other vehicles or lingering between vehicles.
  • Help drivers see you by wearing brightly colored/reflective protective gear and using high beams during daylight.

I worked on AB 51 with a handful of other rider advocates from BARF, the AMA, ABATE, and other organizations, so I’m glad to see this stuff finally see the light of day, even if over two years have passed since AB 51 was signed by Governor Brown. But I’m not particularly happy with the substance of the tips: for me, the big reason I supported the bill and put so much energy into ensuring it passed was to enable education of riders and drivers.

These so-called lane splitting tips are incomplete, barely more than generic safe riding tips, meaning that any media spend and education efforts by the CHP / CMSP will be spreading a rather flaccid curriculum. Of the eight rider-specific bullets, just three are splitting-specific; the rest are standard “ride safe” fare.

Analysis of the 2012 – 2014 OTS Lane Share Surveys (available on our sister site, showed the beginning of good trends, arguably thanks to the original CHP guidelines, which were widely covered by mainstream media. Riders appeared to be splitting slightly slower and more drivers were becoming aware that splitting was in fact legal. And thankfully, these new tips do emphasize legality of splitting, as they should.

But while the fear-driven naysayers that indignantly pissed on AB 51, decrying the bill as the first step toward an eventual ban of splitting, may welcome the lack of specificity regarding speed delta and limit, I am concerned that the complete lack of guidance regarding safe (or safer) speeds, which we have a pretty good idea of thanks to the Berkeley / SafeTREC research on lane splitting, will hinder the effectiveness of the education efforts that are funded by California motorcyclists’ own money (via our registration fees).

I’ve included the new Lane Splitting Safety Tips PDF for your review below, which sadly are so insubstantial as to not even qualify for “just the tip” jokes—and we love that shit here at CityBike. I’ve also included the previous CHP guidelines, and the more comprehensive guidelines put together by the BayAreaRidersForum, which is run by Dennis “Budman” Kobza, one of the riders that worked on AB 51 who is a member of the California Motorcycle Safety Program Advisory Committee and deeply involved in motorcycle safety and advocacy in California.

Look, we’re not looking for more regulation or more oversight by The Man, and anyway, these are tips, not additions to the California vehicle code. Two years plus of work on AB 51—plus another two years plus of waiting—should have gotten us more informative, useful tips than these, especially since the CMSP will be dropping a bunch of media spend on educating riders about this new, oh-so-deep and helpful wisdom.

Documents: Lane Splitting Guidelines

New CHP Lane Splitting Safety Tips – September 2018

Previous CHP Lane Splitting Guidelines

Bay Area Riders Forum Lane Splitting Guidelines