Motorcycle lane-splitting bill moves forward in California

A state Assembly bill that would allow motorcycle lane-splitting in California has moved closer to a vote.

California’s AB 51, sponsored by Assembly member Bill Quirk (D-Hayward), intends to create guidelines for safe lane-splitting, a practice the proposed legislation describes as a motorcyclist passing other vehicles “by riding between them along the lane line.”

Lane-splitting, while not technically legal nor illegal in California, has long been treated as acceptable by law enforcement agencies. The California Highway Patrol published guidelines on the practice until last year – when a disgruntled citizen complained that the CHP should not be allowed to create public policy.

Quirk stepped in with AB 51, which proposes that the CHP create safe, official guidelines for the practice. As stated by Quirk’s office, “AB 51 defines lane splitting and makes it clear that CHP has the authority to draft educational guidelines for safe lane splitting.”

On Tuesday, Quirk’s bill was passed by the Senate Transportation Committee with unanimous support, the lawmaker’s office said.

It will go to the Appropriations Committee, to determine its financial effect. If it passes there, Quirk’s office said, the bill would proceed to the Senate floor for a vote, and if approved at that level move to the Assembly for a final vote.

The bill has come near to a vote once before. Last year, Quirk decided to hold AB 51 at the Transportation Committee level after multiple interest groups expressed concern about the bill's details.

At that time, AB 51 included specific language, based in part on the CHP guidelines, about speeds at which legal lane-splitting could take place.

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Among other things, the bill proposed that lane-splitting could occur legally only when the motorcycle was moving not more than 15 mph faster than the traffic around it, and that no lane-splitting could occur legally at speeds above 50 mph.

Several motorcyclists’ groups objected to that language, finding the speed limit too low. Other groups and individuals, who believe lane-splitting is dangerous at any speed, objected to the bill on principle.

The revised bill defines the practice as “driving a motorcycle … that has two wheels in contact with the ground, between rows of stopped or moving vehicles in the same lane, including on both divided and undivided streets, roads, or highways.” The bill would leave the determination of speeds for safe lane-splitting to the CHP.

Quirk’s office said the current bill has the expressed support of more than a dozen key organizations, among them the American Motorcycle Assn., the Motorcycle Industry Council, and the California chapter of ABATE – which defines itself as “a motorcyclists' rights organization dedicated to preserving individual freedom and promoting safety.” ABATE is principally known for its vociferous opposition to mandatory motorcycle helmet laws.

The bill also has the support of multiple law enforcement agencies, including the Fraternal Order of Police of California, the Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers Assn., the Sacramento County Deputy Sheriffs Assn. and the Santa Ana Police Officers Assn.

While the practice of lane-splitting is common in most European countries, California is the only U.S. state where it is not expressly illegal.

A bill to legalize lane-splitting in Nevada was voted down in 2013. A similar bill in Oregon was voted down in 2015. Other bills have surfaced and died in Arizona and Texas.

charles.fleming@latimes.com

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