Update: Bill to restrict motorcycle lane-splitting in California on hold for 2013

Publish Date: 
Feb 27, 2013

STORY UPDATE: SB 350 has not been withdrawn from consideration; it is now on hold for 2013.

Updates incorporated into the article below include changes made by the American Motorcyclist Association -- in particular, regarding a quote from AMA's Nick Haris -- that appeared on the AMA's website. 

SAN JOSE, Calif. - A bill that would have restricted lane sharing by motorcyclists in California has is now on hold for 2013, pending the results of a safety study due out later this year.

A spokesman from the office of Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose) told Dealernews that no action will be taken on S.B. 350 until the results of a University of California-Berkeley safety study are released. He would not speculate on when the bill will first be heard.

Under Beall's legislation introduced Feb. 20, lane sharing would have been allowed only in the following situations: On divided highways with three or more lanes of travel in the same direction, only when traffic is backed up, and only at "a safe speed." The bill exempts peace officers from the restrictions and offers no example of what constitutes "a safe speed."

Click here to read the text of the bill from Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose) that would restrict lane-sharing

In a release from the American Motorcyclist Association, Nick Haris, the organization's western states representative, said that lane-splitting has been used by California motorcyclists for years as an accepted custom and a way to help ease traffic problems. SB 350 would have had a "serious impact on traffic flow" by proposing a big shift in "traffic management strategies in the state with respect to motorcyclists," he said.

"We are pleased that Sen. Beall's office is placing the bill on hold, but we remain watchful of any legislative action on lane-splitting that could penalize motorcyclists," Haris said. "Lane-splitting has been done safely in California for decades, so there is really no need to impose new restrictions, especially given the guidelines just released by the California Highway Patrol that make no mention of a three-lane minimum."

The issue of lane splitting in California recently popped up on the radar of the general public in January when the California Highway Patrol posted on its website the first-ever written guidelines that not only reinforced that the practice is legal, but told motorcyclists how to do it safely.

News organizations across the state and the country covered the release of the guidelines. "There is a need to acknowledge lane-splitting is being done in California and a need to help people understand what is reasonable," California Highway Patrol Sgt. Mark Pope told the Sacramento Bee. "Until now, no one in authority has said how to do it safely."

The response has sparked something of a national debate that's played out in the comments sections of media websites and across social media. Comments range from angry motorists condemning the activity and motorcyclists defending it to former riders saying they've given it to others pointing out that "filtering" is not only common but legal in most of Europe.

Posted by Dennis Johnson