By Gerde Applethwaite
Shorter: Things is hottin’ up in the old Cali corral when it comes to lane splitting. Let’s try to sort it out a bit.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back out onto the freeway and ride the dashed white lines it turns out that the California Highway Patrol has had something of a change of spirit when it comes to lane splitting. Someone filed a legal action that contends that the CHP’s (now prior) stance was tantamount to legally condoning lane splitting. As a consequence of this action the CHP has pulled its lane splitting guidelines and effectively 404′d their position on the CHP home site.
Is lane splitting now legal in California? Yes, but many in California seem to believe that it is in a limbo state where it is neither legal nor illegal – just uncodified. Previously there was a bill introduced in the state that would have made splitting illegal. SB350 never made it into law and lane splitting, thankfully, continued to remain a legal practice. There is a website that helps sort this out and it is ever more useful now that the CHP’s own site has disappeared its previous position.
Surj Gish has done a commendable job of putting together a website dedicated to making sense of the lane splitting fight (note: much of the information for this post comes from his site.) The mother ship for lane splitting info is called <lanesplittingislegal.com> The site is well done and filled with information that makes a convincing case for lane splitting. The AMA (yes, the motorcyclists not the doctors) has taken a stand on lane splitting as well. Check out the AMA site.
The CHP’s most recent position on lane splitting, until this most recent shift in attitude, was written circa 2012 and is as follows:
1) Lane splitting by motorcycles is not illegal in California when done in a safe and prudent manner.
2) Motorists should not take it upon themselves to discourage motorcyclists from lane splitting.
3) Intentionally blocking or impeding a motorcyclist in a way that could cause harm to a rider is illegal (CVC 22400.)
4) Opening a vehicle door to impede a motorcyclist is illegal (CVC 22517.)
5) Never drive while distracted
6) You can keep motorcyclists and all road users safe by:
A) Checking mirrors and blind spots, especially before changing lanes or turning.
B) Signaling your intentions before changing lanes or merging with traffic.
C) Allowing more following distance, 3 or 4 seconds, when behind a motorcycle so the motorcyclist has enough time to maneuver or stop in an emergency.
All of this has been yanked from the CHP site as a direct consequence of this legal action – we are now in a state of minor confusion, again.
Me, I am much in favor of the splitting of lanes when done with a modicum of prudence. I have, for years, minded the gap on both the Bay Bridge and also with the stalled traffic before the yawping mouth of the Caldecott Tunnel. When traffic slows to a crawl I split lanes rather than sitting there waiting for my air cooled Guzzi to overheat. I do not split when traffic is rolling at anything more than, say, 20 mph.
My favorite lane splitting moment (yes, I have a favorite) was on a trip from Amsterdam to Prague. When you leave Dresden you enter the mountains and forested winding roads; It is good bike riding country. When you get some few kilometers from the border of the Czech Republic the traffic backs up to a dead stop – I mean a dead stop, like the L.I.E. on the way to Jones Beach on a summer Saturday morning – dead stop. Lane splitting through 6 kilometers of hobbled traffic to get to the border checkpoint is heaven in a can. Nobody in the line of cars freaks out, shakes their fists or opens their car doors in a homicidal blocking maneuver – none of that, but you come back home though and my god there is a nutball on every 3rd commute.
Something happens to a lot of folks once they get into the car. The big mobile container of glass and steel becomes The-Box-of-Privilege. Folks who would never scream at someone when they stride past them on the sidewalk seem to have no compunction about unleashing a torrent of crazy-ass spew at motorcyclists on the roadway. Folks (thankfully the rare ones) who would normally never physically assault someone in boots and a leather jacket when they amble by them, pushing their shopping carts in the box store parking lot, seem to revel in the fantasy or the act of obstructing a motorcyclist by dooring or faux-dooring her. There is yet one more technique employed by the angry, privileged cager to keep those bikers from getting past. It is the squeeze play. The cager spies in the rear view a lane splitter coming up on them and they steer their car over toward the edge of the lane to block the bike’s path. Now you have a scenario where a petulant locked-down cager has an angry biker directly behind them. What sort of lunatic finds satisfaction in this?
The-Box-of-Privilege makes this possible. You are secure in your bubble of steel and glass and this will accommodate all manner of Hyde-like behavior. I went to a barbeque in Santa Monica recently and those in attendance were a mixed bag of motorcyclists and also cage drivers who had limited or no moto experience. It becomes bizarre to hear some of the ice cube rattling umbrage taken by (a percentage of) cage drivers once they are tanked up on a couple of early afternoon citrusy vodkas. They rail and mumble against lane splitting bikers on their freeways. Underlying it all is the sense that someone is getting ahead of you; you wouldn’t let them cut in line at the store why would you let them cut in line on the freeway? Madness, its all madness. No one on a bike is getting something that you could have had but for the fact that the biker cut in line. There is no limited-amount prize booth at the end of your commute. The lane splitting biker will neither speed nor slow your progress to the job or to your home. Let them go. Let them go. Listen you crazy %*#holes, just say “¡Vaya Con Dios!” Let them go.
The public in my home state needs to know that lane splitting is legal here and they also need to know that motorcyclists are allowed to use the H.O.V. lanes. The education on these things is woefully lacking. The current retreat by the CHP on lane splitting only serves to muddy the waters… or uh, fog up the face shield… or uh… wait, I got one…. uhm.
Yes, alright, it doesn’t help that there are idiots on bikes too. Some pillock who goes flying by at a breakneck pace while threading the needle between decently moving cars does nothing to sell the lane splitting product. Once while heading uphill on highway 4 toward Pittsburg, CA (while in my Pickup-Truck-of-Privilege) I witnessed a guy on a chopper lane splitting at a demonic rate of speed. He came up on us pretty fast and never made it beyond the cab of the big rig truck just ahead of me and one lane over. He caromed off of the truck and into the car adjacent… and back again… and wound up on the ground with his left leg twisted agonizingly in a manner that screamed “Ninety days in a cast, Vicodin and some nice titanium pins to boot.” It happens. Individual vignettes like this do not represent the whole.
As time goes on things will change and California will not be the only state at the forefront of lane splitting rights. The lack of understanding of lane splitting’s common sense amongst the cage driving public needs to be repaired. Gish is going a long way in that regard. Go to his site and follow the links, talk to your neighbors at the next barbeque and see if you can come to some brighter understanding with them about lane splitting. I’ll have a dirty martini – i’m not driving.