Have you ever been stuck in traffic on a 2-lane highway and watched as a motorcycle blew past you using the narrow space between the traffic lanes?
Most people have witnessed lane-splitting and almost everyone has a strong opinion about whether it’s right or wrong. Of course, opinions are one thing, the law is another.
In this blog post, we’ll take a look at lane splitting and whether it’s legal in your state.
What is lane splitting?
Lane splitting (sometimes called “stripe riding”) is when a motorcyclist rides between 2 lanes of cars heading in the same direction.
Most riders split lanes on the highway when traffic slows, but some riders also split lanes in order to filter to the front of traffic at a stoplight.
Is lane splitting safe?
In general, motorcyclists say they lane split for 2 reasons:
With respect to speed, lane splitting allows motorcyclists to move through traffic quickly. Lane splitting also means fewer vehicles are clogging up the road.
With respect to safety, motorcyclists argue that lane splitting makes them less likely to be rear-ended by a 4-wheeler. This isn’t a difficult scenario to imagine. As traffic comes to a halt, distracted drivers often rear-end vehicles in front of them. If a motorcyclist is rear-ended, even at a low speed, the motorcyclist will likely be seriously injured or even killed.
According to motorcycle safety consultant Steven Guderian, lane splitting “is actually a viable safety technique that removes the motorcycle and rider from the danger spot behind a stopped car, and places the motorcycle into the more secure safety envelope that is created between two larger vehicles.”
Other studies support this safety argument.
A recent study by the Safe Transportation Research & Education Center at the University of California Berkeley found that: “Lane-splitting riders were significantly less likely to be rear-ended than other non-lane-splitting riders.”
On the other hand, critics of lane splitting argue that motorcyclists fly between cars in ways that scare drivers and create dangerous situations (for example, if a car were to attempt to switch lanes).
Whether or not lane splitting is safe really depends on how it’s done.
The aforementioned study concluded that lane splitting is safe when done at a speed of 10 miles per hour or less. The study further concluded that lane splitting is not safe when traffic is traveling above 30 miles per hour.
Lane splitting laws by state
For many years, California was the only state where lane splitting was explicitly legal.
In Utah, motorcyclists can pass between 2-lanes of traffic, but only when traffic is stopped (a practice called “filtering”).
On October 1, 2021, Montana became the 3rd state to legalize lane splitting with the passing of S.B. 9, which “allows the operator of a two-wheeled motorcycle to overtake stopped or slow-moving vehicles at a speed not in excess of 20 mph, to filter between lanes of stopped traffic traveling in the same direction as conditions permit, and specifies reasonable and prudent motorcycle operation while lane filtering.”
Both Oregon and Washington are considering bills that would legalize lane splitting. All other states have either banned lane splitting or simply don’t have laws addressing the issue.
It’s worth noting that lane splitting is legal in many other countries, including most European countries, and there is a push here in the United States to legalize lane splitting. For that reason, it’s important to stay up to date with legislation in your state.
Lane-splitting safety tips
If lane splitting is legal in your state or if there are no laws prohibiting lane splitting, here are some general tips you should keep in mind to stay safe:
- Observe your surroundings (this includes the width of the lanes, the sizes of surrounding vehicles, the weather, and the condition of the road).
- The faster you’re going, the more dangerous lane splitting becomes.
- The faster the cars around you are going, the more dangerous lane splitting becomes.
- It’s typically safer to split between the far left lanes than between the other lanes of traffic.
- Avoid splitting next to large vehicles (18-wheelers, motorhomes, etc.)
- Riding on the shoulder is illegal in most states and not considered lane splitting.
- Avoid spending any more time than necessary in the blind spots of other vehicles.
- Help other drivers see you by wearing brightly colored protective gear (including a helmet) and using high beams even during daylight hours.
If you’re involved in a motorcycle accident where lane splitting is a factor, consider reaching out to an experienced personal injury attorney.