Before delving deeper into the legalities of motorcycle lane splitting, let us have a quick look at what it means. Lane-splitting indicates a scenario where a rider attempts to ride a motorcycle between two lanes of traffic that head toward the same direction. Splitting lanes is popular by different names such as “white-lining,” or “stripe-riding,” or “filtering”. The lane-splitting riders aim to get ahead and get past the vehicles that are stuck in a congested traffic situation. People often confuse it with lane-sharing. But, these two situations are different. Lane-sharing refers to a situation where two motorcycles run side by side in the same lane.
Lane-splitting often sounds like some sort of a traffic violation. But, some of the studies done in the past have presented positive statistics about this practice. Observing the scenarios of almost 6,000 motorcycle collisions, the researchers could reach the following conclusions. Out of these 6,000, 997 accidents had happened when the motorcyclist was splitting lanes at the time of the crash.
- Riders who split lanes were 6% less likely to suffer an injury to the head. The chances of suffering an injury to the torso were 10% less.
- Riders who split lanes are 1.8% less likely to die in a crash.
- Lane-splitting riders take more precautions than ordinary riders. Riders who split lanes are 14% more likely to wear full-face helmets and proper protective gear.
The study showed that lane-splitting could be safe if the rider was within the speed-limits of 50 miles per hour. Riding at more than 15 miles per hour of speed faster than the surrounding traffic flow was also considered risky.
Lane-Splitting in the Different States
Whether splitting lanes is legal or not, depends on the specific legislation of that state.
Here, we have divided the states into five categories according to their lane-splitting legalities.
- States Where Lane-Splitting is Legal: California
- States Where Lane-Splitting is Illegal: Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Alaska, Wyoming, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Tennessee, Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, Pennsylvania, New York, Maine, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and New Hampshire.
- States where lane-splitting is not specifically prohibited: Montana, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, North Carolina, Delaware.
- States that are planning to bring in legislation related to lane splitting: Washington, Oregon, Washington D.C., Maryland, Connecticut.
- States where modified versions of lane-splitting have been legalized: Utah
From the distribution presented above, it appears that California is the only state where lane-splitting is declaredly legal.
Lane-Splitting in California
The official pro-lane-splitting bill became active in California on January 1st, 2017. The bill was named AB-51. Earlier, it was incumbent upon the California Highway Patrol or CHP to determine whether lane-splitting was correctly used or abused on a case-by-case basis. The Department of Motor Vehicle and the CHP had also issued safe strategy documents on the topic of lane-splitting. But, it was later withdrawn.
After California legalized lane-splitting, the GHSA or the Governor’s Highway Safety Association released some data to furnish proofs in favor of its efficacy. The data showed that since the bill became active, the number of fatal motorcycle accidents declined by a significant margin of 30%. But, the data could not establish a causal link between the reduction in the number of accidents and the passing of the lane-splitting law. For example, during the same time, the number of fatal accidents in Washington D.C. reduced by 66.7%, whereas in Rhode Island, it increased by 175%.
Overall, the national average saw a decline of 8.6% with more than 20% decreases in 14 states.
Whether the legalization of lane-splitting brought real changes in California or not, a few other states in the United States have started to work upon their legislation in this regard. Utah is one of such states which have made significant changes in their traffic legislations to accommodate a certain form of lane-splitting.
On May 14, 2019, Utah legalized a regulated version of lane filtering. As was reported by the industry publications, lane filtering is only legal in Utah when the traffic is static. Once the traffic starts moving, the rider must get back to following a specific lane as soon as possible.
Motorcyclists attempting to filter lanes in Utah must remain under the speed limit of 45 miles per hour. This speed limit makes it impossible to filter lanes on freeways. The legislation in Utah also makes it specific that when filtering lanes riders can not go above 15 mph. Finally, a motorcyclist in Utah can only filter lanes when the road has two or more lanes going in the same direction. Riders are only allowed to lane-filtering in marked travel lanes. It is illegal while riding on the shoulder or in the bike lanes.
The road infrastructure in Hawaii is generally narrow. It does not provide the required scope for lane-splitting. Since there is no real need, Hawaii did not consider the aspect of lane-splitting with much importance. Rather, it legalized shoulder surfing. This legislation allows the riders of Hawaii to use the shoulder to get ahead when stuck in congested traffic.
The state of Connecticut has its Senate Bill 629 stuck on the queue. The bill asks to permit the motorcycle rider to operate between lanes of traffic to ease traffic congestion. The bill came to the table in the January session of the 2019 General Assembly. As of now, the transportation committee is yet to decide on it.
In 2019, the state of Maryland introduced house bill no.917. The bill asked the MVA or the Motor Vehicle Administration to adopt certain guidelines on motorcycle riding on a roadway that has two or more than two marked lanes for vehicular traffic. The bill could not pass. It received unfavorable reports from committees of environment and transportation.
The state of Washington has moved Senate Bill no 5254 in this regard. The bill aims to modify the operations of motorcycles on roadways that are laned for traffic. The bill was introduced in the Senate and has so far moved to the Committee level. The committee is yet to decide on moving it to the floor.
It is evident that majorities of the states in the US are either against or ambiguous about lane splitting. Yet, a few states, as cited above, are trying to legalize lane splitting.
Even though it is fully and partially legalized in California and Utah, riders who plan to split lanes into those two states must take some precautions.
- Riders should always attempt to split the lanes that are between lanes one and two, the ones that are on the furthest left. The lanes on the furthest right are riskier to split. These lanes witness the greatest movement of traffic that is attempting to adjust for on-ramps and exits.
- If a rider sees another rider on his/her right trying to split lanes, it’s better to ease back. Attempting to stay parallel to that rider may prove riskier. It may end up pushing traffic into each other’s paths creating vulnerability for both the riders.
- It is riskier for new and less-experienced riders to attempt lane splitting. It’s too important to have a clear idea about the width of the bike. It helps to pre-empt whether the bike will fit between the gap of two parallel vehicles.
- It’s better to be extra-cautious when the parallel vehicles are long. It’s better to wait for the vehicles to re-position themselves. If the vehicles start closing the gap when the motorcycle is halfway through, it becomes riskier for the motorcyclist. It gets difficult to move out of the gap quickly.
- Lane-splitting should not cause disturbances to the drivers in the lanes.
- It’s far riskier to attempt lane-splitting in wet road conditions.
- The rider should always be careful of bumps, and uneven surfaces. Slight imbalances in the vehicle may become far riskier when splitting lanes.
- Finally, it’s better to not split lanes at all in the dark.
Legal approval does not make any scenario risk-free. So, even in states where it is the norm, the riders should be splitting the lanes reasonably and responsibly.
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