But lane splitting is already legal! Yeah, it is. I doubt many have said that more than me. But specifically legalizing splitting would let the CHP and other organizations educate riders and drivers again, (remember the lane sharing guidelines?) and would also likely remove the gray area we have around fault when a rider crashes while splitting. These are valuable goals, perhaps worth compromising for.
I’ve been working with a handful of dedicated folks on AB 51 since shortly after it was introduced. We’ve met with Assemblyman Quirk, the author of AB 51, several times. It was our idea for Quirk to meet with Dr. Tom Rice, the Berkeley / SafeTREC lane splitting study guy.
Early on, we told Quirk that we wanted to explicitly “legalize” splitting without limiting it, that we didn’t want to give up the flexibility we have now for a law. The first version of AB 51 was at odds with this goal, essentially codifying the CHP lane splitting guidelines. These were excellent guidelines, and they worked, according to the trends that were starting to show up in the OTS lane share surveys, but I—we—didn’t want to see these numbers (30 MPH traffic speed, 10 MPH delta) as absolute limits enshrined in law. We were very vocal about this from the beginning; we told Quirk that he should talk to Dr. Rice, and use Rice’s analysis to inform the limits in the bill.
Quirk and his staff repeated this mantra over and over: Quirk is a scientist, who values data, and that we could trust he would take the data into account and amend the bill accordingly.
When Quirk received an early summary of Dr. Rice’s most recent analysis (which should be public this week), the bill was amended to increase the delta to 15 MPH, but limit speed of the splitting rider to 50 MPH—essentially limiting splitting to cases when surrounding traffic is at speeds of 35 to 40 MPH or so:
Section 21658.1 is added to the Vehicle Code, to read:
21658.1. (a) A motorcycle, as defined in Section 400, that has two wheels in contact with the ground may be driven between rows of stopped or moving vehicles in the same lane, including both divided and undivided streets, roads, or highways, if both of the following conditions are present:
(1) The motorcycle is not driven at a speed of more than 50 miles per hour.
(2) The motorcycle is not driven more than 15 miles per hour faster than the speed of traffic moving in the same direction.
(b) This section does not authorize a motorcycle to be driven in contravention of other laws relating to the safe operation of a vehicle.
This is in contrast to Dr. Rice’s latest analysis, which he summarized as follows:
– There was no meaningful increase in injury incidence until traffic speed exceeded roughly 50 MPH
– Motorcycle speed differential is a stronger predictor of outcomes
– Speed differentials of up to 15 MPH were not associated with changes in injury occurrence
– Above that point, increases in speed differential were associated with increases in the likelihood of injury of each type
“Traffic speed” means the speed of surrounding traffic, and according to this, we can hypothetically split at up to 65 MPH—50 MPH traffic speed plus a delta of 15 MPH.
So even though Quirk doesn’t seem to be honoring Rice’s data as he promised he would, Quirk and his staff believe that their bill, amended as per the mockup, will be good to go as-is.
The group I’ve been working with is in opposition to the amended bill, and I was too. But I was uncomfortable with this position, and kept thinking and talking to riders, and Dr. Rice.
I think it comes down to this. If we oppose, and successfully kill AB 51, we abandon an opportunity to get a decent lane splitting law on the books.
There’s no way we’ll make any progress with a bill that says we can split at up to 65 MPH, assuming we could even get a legislator to write such a bill. Riders know that making an argument for splitting at that speed to non-riders is a dead end. So by demanding that, we’re essentially taking a hardline approach that means we’ll never get a bill that we’re happy with.
All the work I’ve done with LaneSplittingIsLegal.com over the last 2 ½ years has been about getting riders to abide by the CHP guidelines, be good ambassadors for the riding community, and split safely and smartly. I believe there’s tremendous value in having a law on the books—as noted above, it will let CHP, OTS and other organizations dedicate resources to educating both riders and drivers, and remove this frustrating “gray area.”
AB 51, if passed as amended, would codify lane splitting in a reasonable way, and open things up for the CHP, OTS, and other organizations to educate riders and drivers again, which would be a really good thing. I think it’s worth accepting the compromise to make that happen.
Here’s the amended bill:
Stay tuned here at LaneSplittingIsLegal.com for more information on AB 51 and California lane splitting news as the bill progresses.
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