L.A. Can't Drive » Is Lane-Splitting over Double Yellow Lines Legal?

Is Lane-Splitting over Double Yellow Lines Legal?

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This is a tricky question to answer since “lane sharing”, though highly discouraged in the California Motorcycle Handbook 2008, is not illegal. Anyway, how often do you see motorcyclists riding perfectly on top of any lane division for that matter? But before we talk about lane-splitting, we need to talk further about lane sharing.  On page 15 of this handbook, the DMV states: “Cars and motorcycles each need a full lane to operate safely. Lane sharing is not safe. Riding between rows of stopped or moving cars in the same lane can leave you vulnerable. A car could turn suddenly or change lanes, a door could open, or a hand could come out of a window. Discourage lane sharing by others.” Yet for some reason, they haven’t outlawed lane sharing since lane-splitting is legal. However, you can still get cited for reckless driving or not signaling if you’re weaving excessively between lanes. Many CHP officers use the 10 mph rule, in which a safe pass is one where a motorcycle travels no more than 10 mph faster than traffic. However, you need to be careful about not getting cited for speeding, since most traffic tends to travel at or above the posted speed limit.

With that said, this brings us back to our original question: what about lane-splitting over double yellow lines? Well, the California DMV (v.c. 400(a)) defines a motorcycle as “any motor vehicle having a seat or saddle for the use of the rider, designed to travel on not more than three wheels in contact with the ground, and weighing less than 1,500 pounds.” Since a motorcycle is clearly defined as a vehicle,
v.c. 21460(a) states: “When double parallel solid lines are in place, no person driving a vehicle shall drive to the left thereof, except as permitted in this section”–none of the subdivisions given an exception to motorcycles for lane-splitting.

So can you theoretically argue that you were lane-sharing with the vehicle next to you if you’re pulled over by a cop while lane-splitting over double yellow lane markings? I doubt it since it is almost inevitable that you crossed over the double yellow lines at least once while trying to maintain a safe distance between your bike and the vehicle next to you. Then again, you could drive like this impatient jackass in the above photo who repeatedly crossed over the double yellow lines into opposing traffic by several feet while trying to bypass traffic on Coldwater during rush hour. Did this guy want to become an organ donor before the evening news? Given Coldwater’s winding nature and blind turns, he was basically guessing at whether or not he would encounter a vehicle in the opposite lane of traffic each time he tried this passing maneuver (or splitting, as he would undoubtedly defining it).  I actually witnessed a near miss as he swerved back into our lane of travel just before I took this picture.  At the very least, one could clearly define what he was doing as excessive weaving without signaling.

Wrong, wrong, WRONG thing to do. On a similar note, people often ask if it’s legal to split lanes over the double yellow lines that separates the #1 and carpool lanes on freeways, since traffic is traveling in the same direction on both sides of the lines. Well, given that it’s legal for motorcycles to drive completely in the carpool lane, why split? Rather, split the #1 and #2 lanes on the freeway instead.  And again, the California Vehicle Code does not give special allowances to motorcycles regarding double yellow lines.

So in summary, don’t lane-split over double yellow lines, lest risk receiving a citation or becoming a permanent fixture on someone else’s windshield.

13 Responses to “Is Lane-Splitting over Double Yellow Lines Legal?”

  1. I dunno if lane splitting on the double yellow is legal but it’s not too smart. Can you say “head on collision”?
    Worse yet, it could freak out an unsuspecting, on-coming motorist and cause them to crash trying to avoid the motorcyclist.
    I’ve seen how the motorcyclists drive.
    If I see them coming up on my rear and I have a little room to move, I will move over and give them space.
    I don’t want them to scratch my car with their handlebars.

    Years back when I had a Dodge Dakota pickup, a cyclist hit my mirror while going through traffic on my right. I didn’t even see him coming. It knocked the wind out of him. He even stopped to apologize and reset my mirror. That was nice, I’m glad it didn’t break.

  2. What about in carpool lanes? There is a double yellow line (sometimes two) that seperates the HOV lane from the other lanes of travel. Any traffic in the HOV lane is moving to the left of the double yellow. So what if the motorcycle is in the carpool lane and lane shares to the right of the vehicle in front?

  3. Micah, if there are 2 sets of double yellow lines, then you absolutely cannot cross. 2 sets of double yellow lines are treated like raised medians. But instead of building a raised berm, the city just paints 2 sets of double yellow lines.

    Now if it’s just one set of double yellow lines and a motorcycle in the HOV lane is trying to pass the car in front, my guess is that it is up to the officer’s discretion. I’ve seen this done before, and my guess is that the CHP would be more lenient purely based on the fact that all vehicles are going in the same direction on either side of the double yellow lines. Passing should still be done safely, and no faster than 10 mph than the flow of traffic. Passing for the sake of passing so that you can speed (ie. the car in front is going 75 and you want to go 85) will most certainly earn you a citation from any CHP officer who sees this maneuver. The officer might slap you with both unsafe lane change and speeding violations.

  4. This is my situation pefectly. I was sharing the carpool lane. Traffic was moving roughly around 35 – 40 miles an hour. I was going 43 – 45 thought i did no cross the double yellow. THe CHP officer wrote on the ticket “crossing double yellow – splitting lanes”

    I am thinking of fighting the ticket saying that this is a grey area in the rule book because it does not state anything like this in the hand book. The officer said something like “it is illegal for a motorcycle to pass traffic going more than 40 miles an hour.” The speed is not stated on the ticket. So i guess when it comes down to the judge who is he going to believe. The officer that wrote on the ticket that i crossed over a double yellow line and splitting lanes? or the fact that some 21 year old punk kid is telling me that there is nothing written in the hand book about speeds of crossing or passing a car not crossing the double yellow on the right side.

    any suggestions?

    let me know my court date is the 11th.

  5. Ryan, most officers will allow you to pass other traffic while splitting lanes as long as you’re not going more than 10 mph faster than surrounding traffic (which you weren’t). What’s the v.c. written on your citation? Did he cite you for an unsafe lane change? In the end, it doesn’t matter what he said about passing traffic at particular speeds, since it’s the citation that you have to worry about.

    This is my guess: motorcycles are allowed to ride in the carpool lane in California, which is a lane that is already traveling faster than all other lanes–so why split? If you need to pass traffic, you can do this by splitting the #1 and #2 lanes (not including the carpool lane), which is what CHP officers, the handbook, etc. generally prefers and recommends. But by lane-sharing the carpool lane, you were likely riding on the double-yellow line rather than actually sharing an entire lane with another vehicle in that carpool lane. As a result, this is analogous to motorcycles who are cited for lane-sharing by passing traffic on the canyons streets, where there’s one lane going in each direction and the motorcyclist passes cars by riding in the middle of the road (over the double-yellow lines).

    You can try to fight it, since lane-sharing is not very clearly defined, though lane-sharing IS specifically discouraged. Crossing over double-yellow lines, however, IS specifically stated as being illegal, and the handbook doesn’t give any distinction between double-yellow lines that split traffic going in the same or opposite directions. If the officer states that he saw you cross over double-yellow lines, you can argue that you were lane-sharing and safely passing other vehicles at under 10 MPH faster than their rate of travel. This might score some points with the judge, showing that you’re familiar with the law enforcement “rule of thumb” and were very aware of the safety issues at hand.

  6. “Well, given that it’s legal for motorcycles to drive completely in the carpool lane, why split? Rather, split the #1 and #2 lanes on the freeway instead.”

    As a motorcyclist myself, I would never cross a double yellow line in a two way street with traffic going the opposite way. That is straight up stupid. I can explain why I do it for the carpool lane though. 1) it’s wider, which gives us more room and 2) it’s a little safer, IF cars follow the double yellow line laws because they would be less likely to switch lanes/cut anyone off. I know that’s a little hypocritical, but motorcycles need to lane split. If not lane split, we need to keep moving. I had a friend who had driving school and told me the one thing she remembered (I don’t know why) was why motorcycles were allowed to lane split. Apparently, motorcycles in the old days use to catch on fire because of over heating. With that in mind, motorcycles NOW still get really hot if we were to drive in traffic. Hot enough where it could burn our legs. Going back to why we need to constantly move, the wind is our fan. Now if you’re going to argue why ride a motorcycle? Then here’s my defense. It’s A LOT more affordable and it’s a little more environmentally friendly because of the mileage. Just from my experience. Share the road!

  7. I took a ride from San Diego yesterday, June 30, 2012 into Downey where I used to live. I couldn’t believe the amount of offensive motorcycle riders out there. Here is what I noticed about fellow motorcycle riders only: passing on the double yellow line in the car pool lane, screaming by at 70 mph when the traffic is crawling, weaving in and out of traffic without a signal, etc. I have been riding for over 35 years and have never seen so many idiots in one place. Some will be Darwin Award winners soon if they don’t learn how to ride. BTW, I witnessed the after effects of a motorcycle wreck on the 91 East. Crotch rocket probably riding like another idiot. Left the remnants of his bike all over the road.

  8. Paul, I can totally relate. I know quite a few bikers who are very safe on the road, but there is no shortage of erratic, weaving, speeding cage riders. As you can imagine, it’s very difficult getting a photo of any of these offenders, hence why they’re not more prominently featured on this website. Aside from everything you just mentioned, these guys also regularly tailgate or ride in the blind spot of the car in front of them. Why? What’s the point? Maybe someone should educate these riders on the fact that they’re 35 times more likely to get into a fatal accident than a driver in an automobile.

  9. Well its currently August 3rd, 2012… This article is still going after its original post in 2008. Wow…. none the less, the current California Highway Patrol (CHP) law basically states:


    Can motorcycle riders “split” lanes and ride between other vehicles? Lane splitting by motorcycles is permissible but must be done in a safe and prudent manner.

    ‘Permissibly legal provided done safely while adhering to area laws’ is what it means. Ahem… so that basically says your saddle is in the hands of the local authorities or another officer on a bent T.O.D. j/k…

    But the following IS the STATE LAW for California via the DMV as of today this states:

    California Driver Handbook – Sharing the Road

    “Motorcycles may travel faster than traffic during congested road conditions and can legally travel in the unused space between two lines of moving or stationary vehicles; this is commonly called “lane splitting.””

    Why or why don;t folk just quote it… because everyone needs their ‘own definition’ which means squat if the law feels other :p

    – cheers! WOTYSGTB is not the answer. Its another worlds quo.

  10. Hey Zedd, thanks for the details. An officer once told me that motorcycles who split lanes still can’t travel faster than 10 mph than the general pace of traffic around them. I also know a few motorcyclists who have been cited by CHP for lane-splitting on the double yellow line separating the carpool lane and the #1 lane. Essentially, they were cited for crossing over the double yellow lines. I don’t think anyone disagrees with what you wrote, though personally I think lane-splitting is retarded and should be illegal in all 50 states instead of just 49. The law is pretty clear about the policy regarding crossing over double yellow lines, so unless the motorcyclist wishing to lane-split the carpool lane and the #1 lane because arguably there’s more room between cars can argue that they are making a left into a driveway of some sort, they’re pretty much sh*t out of luck if they’re cited by the CHP.

  11. Nobody who drives on the freeways in southern California drives their motorcycles faster, splits lanes more, crosses over the double yellow lines separating the car pool lanes from normal lanes, speeds over the limit, etc. than the off duty city police who drive their bikes toand from work in the mornings and afternoons. I have seen these guys driving on their way to work going over 100 miles an hour on early mornings. Then, when they crash we are supposed to feel bad.

  12. There is not enough room for lane splitting. The freeway lanes are smaller. More traffic. Not safe. Guy on a Harley lane splitting double yellow, two lane road. We ended up at the same light. What an idiot. Didn’t get there any faster and almost went head on over 5 times.

  13. Why do i split lanes?

    Lets see. I drive a 20 mile stretch of the 405 between Long Beach and Irvine every day. If i take my car it costs me a little over $6 per day in gas and my total roundtrip drive time is about 2.5 to 3 hours. If i take my bike it costs me under $3 in gas and the round trip is about and hour and 10 minutes. (keep in mind i drive fairly slow compared to the rest of the bikes and only split lanes when the traffic is below 50mph)

    As far as i see it i’m saving the environment not only by burning less gas but also by not being one of the cars blocking up the freeway.

    Carrie… I agree, the guy splitting lanes on the side streets is pretty dumb (although i’ve done it many times when there is a gridlock situation), in general you don’t get to the light much faster (unless gridlock), but on the freeway it is most definitely a time saver.

    Also i would argue that the freeway is actually the safest place to split lanes and especially in-between a set of double yellow lines. And as far as legality is concerned, i don’t care what the law says, i care what the officers actually do. On several occasions I have shared the yellow lane with a CHP on a bike. They don’t seem to care if we use it that way.

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