Ask MC – Motorcycles, Meters, and You

This iteration of Ask MC comes from Shasta.  Despite her dubious acquaintances (she alleges to have found MCPD through HMHQ), she has a question about metered on-ramps and motorcycles.

Here’s my question: I am waiting at a metered light to enter the freeway at a two-lane on-ramp. The sign says “Two cars per green.” As I get to the light with one car ahead of me, a motorcycle splits the lane and pulls up even with the first waiting car.

Am I now car number three?  Would I be subject to a violation if I went through the light following the car and the lane-splitting motorcycle? Is the motorcyclist legally entitled to pull to the front of the line? Thanks!

2007 California Vacation_234photo © 2007 Eric Schmuttenmaer | more info (via: Wylio)Let’s work backwards on this one.  First, is the motorcyclist legally entitled to pull to the front of the line?  There is no vehicle code (at least in CA) that precludes lane-splitting.  If we assume that the motorcycle arrived at the front of the line by lane-splitting, then I would say there is no violation there and he/she is good to jump to the front.

Now, to the meat of your question…does the presence of the motorcycle alter the order in which you (or the other driver for that matter) would proceed on the green metering light?  I am not aware of any code that would open you to a violation in this particular scenario.  That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist however.  That vehicle code is wicked thick, but it is primarily founded on common sense.  With that in mind, I’d say you have two options:

1. Play it safe.  Let the other car and the bike carry on and wait that extra ten seconds to make damn sure you’re not violating any laws and subject to a potentially healthy fine.

2. Take a chance.  Obviously, you didn’t lane-split to get to the head of the line.  If anyone would be subject to a violation, I’d figure on the motorcycle.  The other point is that motorcycles are exempt from carpool violations, so they may be exempt from metering obligations as well.

Thanks for the question, Shasta!

What about you?  Got a question for MC?  Drop me a line at

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. Snark is encouraged. Being a prat is not.

5 thoughts on “Ask MC – Motorcycles, Meters, and You

  1. MC, I see my minions have infiltrated your lair!

    I always have a question about this “lane splitting” foolishness and I know the vehicle code has nothing (at least it didn’t when I went through school) establishing how many vehicles can occupy a lane width wise.

    This is one of the most unsafe practices on the road. If they stay to the side of one lane, OK, but they are constantly weaving from one to the next, without signaling and without a safe following distance. Especially in the case of the metered lights.
    I’m amazed he stopped, many places near me have a diamond lane they are usually allowed to take.

    If the code does not specify how many vehicles can occupy the lane width wise would the motorcycle and the vehicle in front of your questioner technically count as 1 vehicle in the case of the meterd light?

    • I would argue the unsafe practices comment only insofar as it relates to heavy traffic. I am of the opinion it is actually safer for the motorcyclist to split lanes in heavy traffic. The last place I want to be in heavy traffic is between two big ass cars. My rule of thumb is typically no faster than 10-15 mph faster than the traffic is going and I won’t split lanes if traffic is going faster than about 25-30 mph. Again, that’s rule of thumb.

      I take issue with crotch rocket-types that zip in and out of traffic with their hair on fire. Those fools give the rest of us a bad name.

      To answer your last question, yes, that is my assumption.

      • I have two distinct points of view. As a cyclist in a major city I appreciate the ability that I have to split lanes and weave through traffic, however, as a driver it kills me to watch a bike weave without yielding right of way or watching for the movement of cars behind them. As a cyclist I know that it’s my job to keep my head on a swivel and look out for myself.

        As a motorcyclist I certainly sympathize with lane splitters in traffic, I have no problem with lane splitting, except when it’s done dangerously (i.e. not following MC’s rules of engagement). Unfortunately, due to the size of my motorcycle and my extended crash bars and highway pegs lane splitting is almost impossible without taking out someones fender or quarter panel.

        All I can say is, stay safe on the roads, both drivers and riders. It’s important to be keenly aware of your surroundings and as emergency vehicle operators we should all be well versed in situational awareness. Remember, however, that your fellow motorists are likely not as in tune with whats around them.

  2. If the sign in fact says “two cars per green” I would be inclined to take it at face value. Like MC pointed out, motorcycles have some special rules cut out for them in terms of carpool type violations. The metered on ramp is designed to regulate the volume of traffic entering the roadway. Motorcyles take some room but by their general manueverability, and their ability to lane-split in CA, they don’t have the negative effect that the CalDOT has determined that three cars entering the roadway would. That would be how I would interpret the situation….but then again I’m up here in Oregon and we don’t have the aforementioned issue since motorcycles can’t split lanes.

  3. I’d like to check up on the motorcycle/carpool laws. Around my parts (southern california), they’ve actually been covering up the “Motorcycles OK” part of the carpool signs. I continue to use the lanes, but it’s slightly concerning.

Comments are closed.