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Motorcycle lane splitting now legal in CA...but wasn't it already?

Given that California motorcyclists have been lane-splitting for years, it may surprise many people that this particular practice was never expressly legal under California law - at least not until 2017.

When Governor Brown signed Assembly Bill 51 last summer - which went into effect until January 1 - California became the first state to formally legalize lane-splitting.

Prior to this new legislation, this often-controversial method for navigating traffic was technically neither expressly forbidden nor allowed under state law. In fact, the main law governing lane splitting merely stated that it was unlawful to operate any motor vehicle, including motorcycles, at an unreasonable speed given the road conditions - meaning lane-splitting was permitted as long as the motorcyclist did it in a "safe and prudent manner."

Under the language of the new law, however, there is no longer any ambiguity about whether lane splitting is legal.

Are there any limitations?

While previous versions of this legislation placed certain restrictions on lane-splitting - such as speed limits on the motorcyclists - it is important to note that the final bill passed contained no such restrictions. However, it did state that the Department of the California Highway Patrol (CHP) "may develop educational guidelines relating to lane splitting in a manner that would ensure the safety of the motorcyclist and the drivers and passengers of the surrounding vehicles."

When creating these guidelines, CHP may consult with other agencies and groups, including the DMV, DOT, Office of Traffic Safety and motorcycle safety organizations. Ultimately, it remains to be seen whether this new law will impact traffic safety, either for motorcyclists themselves or for other motorists on the road.

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