The National Safety Council has designated May as Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month.  And whether you’re a rider of 2-wheels (or one of those strange 3-wheel contraptions) or a driver of 4-wheels, it’s everyone’s responsibility to stay safe on the roads – and aware of motorcycles.

And nowhere in the United States is that more important than in California which has the most registered motorcycles in the country.  In this iDriveSoCal Podcast we’re joined by Motorcycle Officer Darren Wybenga of the California Highway Patrol for tips during Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month.  (Including the mind-blowing concept of motorcycle lane-splitting… which is legal in California… for some reason.  Why?  I don’t know – I guess, because it’s California.)

California Highway Patrol, Motorcycle Educational Resources:


Recorded May 4, 2018 in Torrance, CA

Darren Wybenga: It’s more about safety, seeing my fellow riders ride safety than it is important for me to write that person a ticket. When there’s a fatality it doesn’t generally occur from the initial impact, it typically happens as a secondary impact once you’ve been ejected onto the road and then a car doesn’t even see you and you end up in their path and then you’re struck again, it’s from a secondary impact like that that’ll end up resulting in serious injury or potentially fatality.

Tom Smith: Welcome to iDriveSoCal, the podcast all about mobility from the automotive capital of the United States, Southern California. I’m Tom Smith and today I’m at the California highway patrol, south office, yet again. With me is California highway patrol officer Darren Wybenga. Officer Wybenga thank you so much for what you do and thank you for joining me for this podcast.

Darren Wybenga: You’re welcome, it’s my pleasure.

Tom Smith: Okay, so officer Wybenga is a motorcycle officer, he has been for a very long time and today’s podcast is on motorcycle safety awareness. As those of you know listening to the podcast, I’m not from California, I’m from Chicago and our laws for riding bikes are very different. Personally, let me just get this out there, I had a bike when I was a teenager, the second I was old enough to defy my parents I got a bike, scared the daylights out of myself and although I really love the idea, romanticize the idea of having a bike I don’t think I’m ever going to own one again the state of California, perhaps maybe if I lived in Paso or something like that. Officer Wybenga rides professional for work and rode personally to get there, meaning rode personally to start riding professionally but now just writes professionally for work, correct?

Darren Wybenga: Correct.

Tom Smith: Okay. I swear I’m going to let you talk in just a second here but I wanted to rattle off some  statistics that officer Wybenga shared.  In 2016 there were 476 motorcycle fatalities and over 14,000 injuries. This is a very serious topic everybody, you really want to take note and if you’re not a motorcycle rider, we’re all impacted by it because we’re also driving. So Officer Wybenga, as a motorcycle rider or non motorcycle rider, what kind of high level points do you have to share with us for safety awareness month?

Darren Wybenga:  California is home to the largest number of motorcycle riders so it’s a reality when you’re on the road you’re gonna see many, many, many motorcycles pass you on either side, infront, behind.

Darren Wybenga: One of the most common locations of accident occurrence is near the car pool lane. Many motorcyclists are splitting lanes on the double yellow lines between the car pool and the fast lane and it’s just really important to reiterate the fact that you absolutely cannot cross in and out of that car pool lane unless it’s a dotted white line section which is usually signified by an overhead sign indicating that you can safely pass in and out of the carpool lane at that location.

Tom Smith: So one solid white you can cross anytime?

Darren Wybenga: Correct.

Tom Smith: A dotted white, what do you call it, it’s not dotted…

Darren Wybenga: A broken white line.

Tom Smith: A broken white, you can cross that?

Darren Wybenga: Correct.

Tom Smith: But if you have two whites next to each other or two yellows next to each other or any combination there of, no crossing?

Darren Wybenga: Correct. You may see on the 105 freeway in this particular area, there’s four yellow lines. That freeway was built more recently.was built more recently.

Tom Smith: Four yellow lines, don’t cross!

Darren Wybenga: It’s almost like a designated motorcycle lane people will say, but they put in those lines to allow them some variance if they need to move lanes because of the wearing of the path of vehicles, they have a little leeway, they have some extra space to work with, they can kind of shift the lines in theory, they just created a larger space there with four double yellow lines.

Tom Smith:  This one I mean I told you I wanted to hold this for a little bit deeper into the podcast but the lane splitting just blows my mind. I don’t think I’m alone, I think a whole lot of people breathe deep like why, only in California. Is there any other states that allow lane splitting.

Darren Wybenga: There are.

Tom Smith: Really?

Darren Wybenga: Very few like California-

Tom Smith: States that have no population, so like Montana?

Darren Wybenga: Probably.

Tom Smith: Go ahead do 150, who cares? Might hit a cow.

Darren Wybenga: Exactly. California is kind of the leader in that whole category just because of the congestion that we have here and weather that works in our favor for riding motorcycles basically year round.

Tom Smith: While we’re on that topic right now, you mentioned off mic that of all California highway patrolmen there are 400 motorcycle officers?

Darren Wybenga: Correct, under 400.

Tom Smith: Under 400, of that 50 are the training officers who train the other under 400 officers. You happen to be one of those?

Darren Wybenga: Yes. One of the training officers.

Tom Smith: So you’re very highly trained, highly skilled and have been doing it for how many years?

Darren Wybenga: 17 years.

Tom Smith: Let’s get a little bit more into lane splitting in a minute but helmet laws. I mentioned that I rode in the Chicago area in Illinois and almost never wore a helmet which is absolutely moronic I think on my part, thankfully I made it through that stage of my life but helmets have been mandated in the state of California since the early 90s I believe?

Darren Wybenga: Yes I believe so. The non-use of a helmet is rarely seen unless we maybe encounter it in a neighborhood where you have pocket bikes or small little self made motorcycles, typically youth will drive around the neighborhood on those without helmets on but as far as on the actual roadways and on the highways it’s not something that we’re encountering, someone not wearing a helmet and it seems as though the trend is now that people are wearing helmets that actually meet DOT requirements and they’re considering their safety when they’re buying a helmet.

Tom Smith:  So, that’s helmets. Lane positioning and then we’ll slide into, pun intended, lane splitting. As it pertains to motorcycle safety, what do you tell your fellow officers?

Darren Wybenga: So, how I was trained was you want to typically travel towards the left side of the road way, so if you’re on a highway you’ want to stay towards the carpool lane or the fast line, if you’re traveling in the right hand lanes, the only time you should do that is in anticipation of taking an exit.

Tom Smith: Okay.

Darren Wybenga: That’s where cars are making typically more lane changes because you’ve got vehicles coming on the freeway, moving to exit the freeway, there’s generally a lot more movement going on on the right side of the roadway.

Tom Smith: Okay.

Darren Wybenga: Not to mention that if you’re on a city street or road, the chances of a pedestrian running off the sidewalk into the street, the chances of someone opening their door unexpectedly to exit a vehicle that was parallel parked is very common, you want to give yourself a little bit of reaction distance by being, if there were two lanes on a city street being in the left lane versus the right.

Tom Smith: I got my motorcycle license in Illinois and we were encouraged to not ride the middle of the lane because that’s where the oil slick is, you have that same thing here in California too right?

Darren Wybenga: Absolutely.

Tom Smith: So that even makes more sense because as a motorcyclist you’re to the left of the left lane, there in is the right on the line of the express lane. So, anything else to touch on lane positioning before we go to lane splitting?

Darren Wybenga: And as far as lane positioning it was a good point that you brought up. I commonly see riders just riding straight down the middle of the lane and that tends to be where debris gathers, that tends to be where there’s oil, there’s diesel fuel, any of those things tend to fall in the center of the lane obviously from the location of a motor on a vehicle.

Tom Smith: Right.

Darren Wybenga: Then there’s kind of two different thoughts if you’re traveling down for example the furthest most left lane which would be a carpool lane on most freeways here in California, some people prefer to ride in the right wheel track because if a car does come over, their reaction is going to be to swerve to get away from that vehicle so that gives themself

Tom Smith: They got the left cushion.

Darren Wybenga: Yeah the left half of the lane is a cushion. Some people prefer to give themselves the most amount of distance by traveling in the left wheel track, which would create the biggest buffer zone between them and a potential vehicle coming into their path.

Tom Smith: Right.

Darren Wybenga: Whichever you do there’s not a right or wrong, I tend to ride in the right wheel track because reactionary is going to be for me to swerve left and either accelerate or reduce my speed to avoid that hazard.

Tom Smith:  So lane splitting. My mind is blown on this one, as I mentioned where I come from you don’t do it, here it happens and I guess as off mic you mentioned, Governor Jerry Brown made it a, what is it technically? It’s not legal right, or it is legal, it’s not illegal?

Darren Wybenga: That made it legal.

Tom Smith: Okay, so there’s a section in the motor vehicle code now that makes lane splitting legal under certain parameters, what’re those parameters again?

Darren Wybenga: Well those parameters are basically suggestions, there’s no hard fast guidelines for it, essentially it allows to share a lane with another vehicle proceeding in the same direction. Some of our departmental recommendations and just general safety recommendations are that you don’t lane share or split at speeds greater than 30MPH and with that in mind that when you are splitting, you’re not splitting at a speed that’s more than 10 miles an hour greater than what the flow of traffic is doing. So for example traffic is basically bumper to bumper, 10 to 20MPH stop and go, your speeds shouldn’t be greater than 20 to 30 miles an hour.

Tom Smith: As a lane splitter?

Darren Wybenga: Right. Which as we discussed off mic, that’s far from common practice, it seems as though traffic here, speeds average during commute 10 to 20 miles an hour stop and go, it’s not uncommon to see several motorcycles pass you at speeds greater than 40MPH if not 50, 60MPH.

Tom Smith: If you as a motorcycle officer see someone do that, another motorcyclist driving significantly over the suggested 10 mile an hour guideline, you’re more than likely not going to risk your life to go track this person down and cite them because they’re gonna be way down the road, I mean, for lots of reasons right?

Darren Wybenga: Right. For me personally as a rider, and I would hope for motorcyclists, it’s kind of a fraternity, it’s a smaller number of people. Most of those that ride are passionate about it, to the point where they’re willing to take risks to do it. It’s more about safety, seeing my fellow riders ride safety than it is important for me to write that person a ticket. It’s just that I know being on the road enough, being exposed enough, those kinds of practices, it’s just a matter of time before someone like that’s going to be involved in an accident. That’s my main concern, the chance of walking away from a motorcycle accident uninjured at those kinds of speeds are very unlikely.

Tom Smith: The majority of motorcycle accidents that you come across are under what circumstance?

Darren Wybenga: Typically they’re under lane sharing or lane splitting and generally they are in the car pool fast lane because that’s typically where motorcyclists are choosing to split traffic. The problem here in addition to that, it’s not just the initial impact, it’s the fact that you’re surrounded by vehicles, and the chances are you’re going to get thrown off the bike, the bike is gonna go down or you’re gonna get ejected or both and you’re gonna end up in the roadway of another car. Typically when there’s a fatality it doesn’t generally occur from the initial impact, it typically happens as a secondary impact once you’ve been ejected onto the road and then a car doesn’t even see you and you end up in their path and then you’re struck again, typically it’s from a secondary impact like that that’ll end up resulting in serious injury or potentially fatality.

Tom Smith: Okay, Officer Wybenga thank you so much, this is good stuff for motorcycle safety awareness month which is the entire month of May, every May right?

Darren Wybenga: Yep.

Tom Smith: Anything else that you’d like to share with iDriveSoCal listeners? Whether they’re riding their motorcycles or beyond, where you can’t lane split.

Darren Wybenga: When I’m splitting lanes I’m covering my clutch, I’m covering my break, I’m covering my foot break, I’m taking that extra precaution to be one step ahead of the potential driver hazard that’s gonna come in my path.

Tom Smith: You’re ready for everything.

Darren Wybenga: I’m assuming the worst and that way hoping for the best and if the worst happens, at very least I can reduce my speeds enough to wear it’s gonna be minimal or I can reduce my speed and then take an evasive swerve or move to avoid whatever the hazard might be. Just as a reminder the California highway patrol does recommend, we have a motorcycle training course that we recommend which is CMSP, it’s a motorcycle course and their number is 1877-RIDE-411 or they have a website at www.CaliforniaMotorcyclist.Com Many of these safety courses are taught by former riders, departmental riders, officers who have had extensive training and want to impart that on new riders.

Tom Smith: Awesome, Officer Wybenga thank you again, so much for joining me and thank you for doing what you do, keeping us safe there on the highways and for everyone out there listening, be safe, keep an eye out for the motorcyclists and you motorcyclists be careful, for iDriveSoCal, I’m Tom Smith, thanks for listening.