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Lane splitting and the law

California has officially made lane splitting legal for motorcycles. Practiced around the world, the Golden State will be the first US state to embrace it, starting on Jan. 1, 2017.

While lane splitting keeps traffic flowing, is safer, and gets you to your destination faster, there are still concerns about safety and it's important to be careful and keenly aware of motorists who don't know the new law. Remember: legality doesn't mean you have the right of way.

Err on the side of caution

Although Assembly Bill 51 has made the practice legal, it comes with conditions that motorcyclists follow speed and distance guidelines, while adapting for unique and ambiguous traffic or road conditions. In short, you need to drive safely -- just like you do everywhere else. Use common sense and be keenly aware of what your neighboring cars are doing because they're not guaranteed to know you're passing them.

If you get into an accident while lane splitting, it will be closely contested to make sure there was no reckless behavior. To prove fault, the other driver has to be violating rules or acting negligently. This means driving while on the phone, changing lanes without signaling or driving erratically. As the new law becomes entrenched, it's best to assume that the motorcyclist will need to prove fault in case of an accident.

Helping your case

To help your own safety, a rider should wear a helmet and other protective gear. Evidence that you're an accomplished rider is always beneficial with insurance claims, such as certificates of safety training and logs of your experience as a rider.

Motorcycles are efficient and versatile but, as any rider knows, there is always a big versus small dynamic on the road that cannot be ignored. Motorcycles are safe, but traffic has many threats.

When a larger vehicle collides with a smaller one, it's the little guy who comes out worse. Although the law now protects the right to lane split, make sure you're utilizing it cautiously with an ever keen eye on the cars and trucks that you're passing by.

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