Many residents of the United States enjoy riding motorcycles as a means of cost effective transportation and for plain old fun, but the general road safety of these vehicles is a part of a longstanding debate—especially regarding lane splitting.
Lane splitting or white lining is where a rider is weaving between moving traffic at a higher speed. Each state has vastly varying legalizations of this.
Lane sharing is another act that has varying legalization, but, in general, most Americans will have seen this done. It’s where two or more motorcyclists will share a lane in standing or moving traffic. The pattern can either be staggered, or they can ride side-by-side.
States Where Lane Splitting is Legal
As of 2022, Californiais the first and only state to make lane splitting explicitly legal, and before that, it was a respected practice.
Lane filtering (the definition of this is below) is allowed in Arizona, but only in certain conditions. The motorcyclist must be:
- On a road with a speed limit of 45 mph or less,
- NOT going faster than 15 mph,
- On the street with 2 or more lanes headed in the same direction,
- Passing cars stopped in the same lane,
- And passing in between lanes of traffic, NOT on the shoulder or median.
Utahallows lane filtering in extremely similar conditions, with the only exception being traffic must be stopped, and they may not do so on the shoulder or bike lanes.
Similarly, in Montana, lane filtering is also legal, but the conditions only differ in that the motorcyclist cannot be traveling more than 20 mph, the road condition must be safe with wide enough lanes, and they stay “within 10mph of ambient traffic speed while splitting lanes”.
Virginia is conisidering legistlation for lane filtering.
The state of Hawaii allows a practice called “shoulder surfing” as an alternative to lane filtering. It allows motorcyclists to pass traffic that is stopped.
States Without Relevant Legislation
Several states lack legislation that even mentions either lane splitting or lane filtering, which means it's legal by omission, but you may still receive a citation for that kind of movement through traffic.
These states with de facto legality include:
- District of Columbia
- New Jersey
- North Carolina
- West Virginia
Even though there is no mention in the state legislation, Idaho’s handbook on the Rules of the Road mentions that “the practice of lane splitting is not legal in Idaho.” New Jersey’s driver's manual also has similar mentions.
Safety Considerations of Lane Splitting
A study by Berkeley made a case for lane splitting. Between June 2012 and August 2013, they reviewed roughly 6,000 collisions where motorcycles were involved. These included 997 that invloved motorcyclists lane splitting at the time fo the impact. They found it's safe when done in traffic moving at speeds less than 50 mph and when the riders don't exceed the speed of who they are passing by 15 mph.
The Motorcycle Legal Foundation refers to the four Rs for those who wish to lane split:
- Be Reasonable: Be reasonable with your speed, as going fast can be dangerous. Don’t be a liability to yourself and others.
- Be Responsible: You are responsible for your safety, so make sure that your actions reflect this. Your actions are also responsible for the safety of others around you.
- Be Respectful: Everyone on the road shares the road. Safely and politely acknowledge a motorist if they give you room to lane split. A motorist giving you space is a courtesy and not an obligation. And don’t be a jerk.
- Beware of Roadways: You should always be aware of potential hazards whenever you’re driving, including uneven surfaces, potholes, inattentive drivers, and poor weather conditions. Riding on painted lines can reduce your grip on the road when it rains. You should be on extra high alert for these hazards when splitting lanes. Stay focused so that you’re able to respond to dangers if they arise.
Lane splitting is controversial and often alarming for drivers. If you ride too fast, you can startle drivers or distract them from focusing on the road in front of them. Additionally, while most rear-end incidents in traffic are minor fender-benders, bikers are at a higher risk of being injured or seriously injured in rear-end incidents. Because motorcyclists have lower visibility on the roadway than other cars, it is also recommended that they wear bright colors.
Some also believe that lane splitting can be beneficial, despite the motorists that get frustrated about bikers not “waiting in line” in traffic. If a biker leaves their spot in traffic to lane split, it allows each vehicle to be one spot closer to their destination, allowing both the biker and the other motorists to travel quicker. A 2012 Belgian study found out that if 10% of drivers switched to motorcycles, travel times would decrease by eight minutes per journey.