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CHP stuck in the middle on motorcycle lane-splitting

The CHP, which last year issued safety guidelines on lane-splitting, has taken the guidelines down

The California Highway Patrol has withdrawn its safety guidance on motorcycle lane-splitting.

The law enforcement agency two weeks ago quietly removed from its website a series of recommendations for riders using the popular traffic-avoidance practice, one often reviled by automobile drivers.

Lane-splitting, or lane-filtering, is the term used to describe motorcyclists riding in the space between lanes, usually on freeways, and usually when the traffic has slowed or stopped. 

In March 2013 the CHP appeared to take a position on the controversial practice, and issued a handful of hints on lane-splitting. While not explicitly recommending the practice, the agency gave riders guidance on how to do it safely.

The agency said riders should never lane-split at more than 10 mph faster than the stopped or slowed traffic; should never lane-split at speeds over 30 mph; should try to split between lanes 1 and 2; and should take extra caution in bad weather or on bad roads.

"Lane-splitting in a safe and prudent manner is not illegal in the state of California," the agency said.

Now, under pressure from a citizen who is opposed to lane-splitting, the CHP has retreated from the subject and taken down its guidelines.

The American Motorcycle Assn. reported the removal after state lawmakers determined that publishing a position on lane-splitting was tantamount to an endorsement or recommendation by the CHP — activities that do not fall within the the agency's domain.

The CHP denied that it had been attempting anything more than a public service.

"Some have interpreted the recently published Motorcycle Land Splitting Guidelines as rules, laws or regulations that could or would be enforced by the department," the CHP statement read. "The guidelines were never intended for this purpose and were prepared simply as common sense traffic safety tips and to raise public awareness."

In California, lane-splitting is considered legal, though the practice is not taught or endorsed by the California Department of Motor Vehicles nor by most motorcycle training schools.

Confirming that the agency had eliminated the safety guidelines, CHP Officer John "Mike" Harris said, "They were taken down because people were looking at them as law. But they are not law. They were just driving tips." 

(The DMV "Motorcycle Handbook" once read, "Vehicles and motorcycles each need a full lane to operate safely. Lane sharing is not safe." Last year it was amended to read, "Lane splitting should not be performed by inexperienced riders.” The handbook offers safety tips, echoing the CHP guideline, but does not state that the practice is legal.)

The CHP's position — or lack of position — remains unchanged: "It’s not against the law, and it’s not authorized by law," Harris said.

Some motorcycle groups, including the AMA, assert that lane-splitting actually reduces the number of motorcycle-involved freeway accidents because it removes motorcycles from the lanes where the highest number of accidents occur.

"We believe that the CHP guidelines provided important safety information for those who might want to use the lane-splitting technique and to non-motorcyclists who need to understand what the motorcycle riders are doing and why," said the AMA's western state representative, Nick Haris. "We want the guidelines back on the websites and available in DMV brochures."

Follow me on Twitter: @misterfleming

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