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Misunderstandings about lane splitting can be dangerous

Although lane splitting is a source of frustration for many California motorists, motorcyclists understand that's it's legal in our state. Most California motorcyclists do it regularly or at least often.

Under a law that took effect in Jan. 2017, lane splitting is defined 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." Lane splitting had been legal before that and a way for California bikers even before the Easy Rider days to deal with our notorious freeway gridlock. However, the new law helped the California Highway Patrol (CHP), other agencies and motorcycle safety organizations develop important lane splitting guidelines.

While most people believe that motorcyclists engage in lane splitting to get to their destination faster, many say they also do it because it makes the roads safer for motorcyclists and motorists. They point out that they're less likely to be rear-ended by a car if they're moving. By not idling in traffic, they also help prevent their motorcycles from overheating.

The safety data on lane splitting is less than conclusive since California is currently the only state in the U.S. where it's legal. A 2015 study at University of California, Berkeley determined that it "appears to be a relatively safe motorcycle riding strategy if done in traffic moving at 50 mph or less and if motorcyclists do not exceed the speed of other vehicles by more than 15 mph."

One key danger of lane splitting is the attitude of motorists -- many of whom don't realize that the cyclists they see getting ahead of them aren't breaking the law. Moreover, they tend to see the practice as unsafe because the lane splitters they notice are more likely to be the reckless ones.

This misunderstanding of the law can and does lead to dangerous incidents of "lane splitting road rage." One woman was seriously injured trying to get away from angry motorists. She said she suffered 15 broken bones and "road rash over 40 percent of my body."

Serious motorcycle crashes can cause extensive physical injuries. Too often, they're fatal. If you or a loved one has been the victim of a motorcycle crash, it's essential to find out your legal options for seeking compensation you need and deserve.

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