WhyBike Motorcycle Blog

Mailbag: Lane-Splitting Blues

By James - 8/20/2005

After reading my Motorcycle Lane Splitting Safety article, a visitor, Josh from San Diego wanted to share an anecdote. . .

So today I got a ticket for basically splitting lanes. I live in San Diego and was getting off of the freeway and saw a motorcycle cop in the right lane of the off ramp. There’s a red light and everyone stops and I stop behind a truck, pull to the right (between the lanes) and creep up to the front of traffic. All of a sudden the motorcycle cop pulls up behind me and says to pull over at the next safe spot. He gives me a ticket for “unsafe passing on the right” which is Vehicle Code 21755. Now here’s 21755 as written on the DMV’s web site.

Pass on Right Safely - Vehicle Code 21755
The driver of a motor vehicle may overtake and pass another vehicle upon the right only under conditions permitting such movement in safety. In no event shall such movement be made by driving off the paved or main-traveled portion of the roadway.

So what exactly did I do wrong? Nothing, of course. In my experiences so far cops have an agenda against sports bike riders. Now I’ve only been riding for about 4 or 5 months and I ride a 2004 Ninja 500R. I split lanes almost all of the time down here in SoCal. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Unfortunately California’s lane-splitting law is ambiguous and hard to prove that you were traveling in a “safe and prudent” manner. Obviously a cop’s word will always win in court so I guess there is no reason to fight it. The trouble with the lane splitting law is that the biker lobby is so afraid of losing the ability to lane split altogether that nobody wants to touch it. Most bikers will live with the ambiguity, careful to not cause a scene and pay our occasional fines quietly because we know that if we brought it before the people of California they would outlaw it. It is literally fitting that the lane splitting issue, like the action itself has so little margin of error.

It is no secret that cops rarely give out tickets to make the roads a safer place. Traffic tickets are a cash cow for the government and if they really cared about safety they would require a lot more training, fines would be tens of thousands of dollars, and they would strip you of your license on your second moving violation.

So what can you do? You could lay rubber a block long right in front of City Hall. You could do a 70mph wheelie through the police parking lot. But none of these things will change the law, just get you in more trouble; even if they made you feel better in the short term. All I can say is pay your fine, keep splitting, and educate your cager friends about lane-splitting. Make them understand why we do it and how it actually SAVES them from waiting in more traffic.

For more info on splitting lanes:
Lane Splitting Articles



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  1. Hah like I can afford to pay for that fine and the insurance
    increases? I think not. My dad is a retired Sheriff and my brother is
    about to be a sheriff. Fighting this one shouldn’t be very hard for
    Mr. Ticket. Besides, there was nothing unsafe about it. You coulda fit
    a bus between the two lanes.

    Comment by Josh — 8/20/2005 @ 10:33 am

  2. James,
    Sorry to hear about your ticket. Been there, done that. If you can honestly say, and be honest, that you were safely going to the front of the row of cars and didn’t go out of the line, take it to court.
    Present your case with facts, photos of what traffic looks like at that time of day, and remain calm. This is America and you have not been convicted of anything at this point.

    Comment by Andrew — 8/27/2005 @ 6:36 am

  3. One of the guys who rode with us to Las Vegas Bikefest this weekend is a city policeman in California. He told us that there are so many traffic laws in California it’s practically impossible to drive without violating a code somewhere, and that was his own words. In effect, a cop can cite for just about anything, if he really needed to do it. You didn’t do anything wrong, you just got “fooked” by the law.

    Comment by Steve — 9/18/2005 @ 10:17 pm

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