Is Lane Splitting Legal Anywhere in the US?

JUN 01, 2018

Is Lane Splitting Legal Anywhere in the US? -
Lane Splitting federal regulations and state regulations, how to find out whether you can or can't do lane splitting in your state and more.

Is Lane Splitting Legal Anywhere in the US?

Lane Splitting Pros and Cons

Lane splitting should be understood as driving a two-wheel motorcycle between lanes or rows of traffic that are moving slowly in the same direction. Also, the term refers to riding between rows of stopped vehicles heading in the same direction. The practice is sometimes called filtering or whitelining, as well as there can be some other names since the practice is rather widespread across the world. Most European and Asian countries allow lane splitting, while in Australia, for example, it is legal only in some provinces.

In the United States, the issue has been a source of hot debates for many years. Filtering supporters claim that the practice has many advantages:

  • It is safer for motorcyclists to lane split in heavy traffic than to travel in their lanes between vehicles, frequently stopping and starting – these jerks can get riders hit easily. According to a National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety issued by NHTSA, driving between lanes on highways can reduce motorcycle-related traffic accidents to some extent.
  • Legal lane splitting allows relieving traffic congestion by removing riders from traffic flow. Both motorcyclists and other drivers will avail of this.
  • Beneficial conditions created for motorcycle operators by lane splitting laws can promote using motorcycles instead of cars, which is better for the environment. According to a Transport and Mobility Leuven study, by replacing 10% of cars with motorcycles, it is possible to reduce carbon emissions by 6%.

However, there are many objections to the standpoint, since:

  • There is little reliable research on the safety of lane splitting, as well as cogent evidence that for motorcyclists it is safer to travel between lanes. The findings of studies conducted are rather conflicting and more research is required.
  • Lane splitting safety depends on the speed of both traffic and motorcyclists, as a University of California Berkeley report shows. A traffic speed higher than 50 mph and a motorcycle speed differential of more than 15 mph can increase risks of collisions and injuries, so strict regulation within filtering laws is required.
  • Also, according to transportation engineers and environmental experts, a large number of Americans need to switch to motorcycles to obtain a significant effect in relieving traffic congestion or reducing carbon emission—and nowadays it is very unlikely.

So, while the debates go on, let’s find out whether it is legal to lane split in any state of the country.  

Whitelining Laws across States

In 2016, the Assembly Bill No. 51 was signed by the governor of California, thus making lane splitting explicitly legal in the state. In the bill, the term is explained and California Highway Patrol is given the authority to develop corresponding safety guidelines for motorcycle operators. Though it seems that the CHP hasn’t succeeded in establishing the guidelines yet, and there are still no explanations about when lane splitting is allowed and when it is not, California is considered to be the only state welcoming riders to filter.

However, this doesn’t mean that all other states prohibit the practice. In fact, while over half of the states have laws prohibiting lane splitting, more than a dozen states have no corresponding laws at all, thus leaving the issue in a gray area. For example, filtering is not clearly banned in Texas, New Mexico or Arizona, but if caught lane splitting by the police in these states, you can be accused of reckless driving or another violation and get respective penalties. You see, when the laws of states are unclear on the issue, it all depends on whether local authorities tend to tolerate such practice. And experience shows that the authorities prefer to outlaw the practice, even if there is no stringent prohibition.

On the other hand, things may change for motorcyclists in the near future thanks to last year’s precedent set in California. To date, more than 16 states have already filed filtering legalizing bills, and after debating, some of them may adopt the new laws. Montana, Oregon, Utah, and Washington may allow lane splitting among other states, so local motorcycle operators should wait and hope for the better. Meantime, if you ride in a state other than California, you should avoid filtering even if it is not banned explicitly.      

How to Split Lanes in California

As you have already learned, California is currently the only state where lane splitting is expressly allowed. The California Motorcycle Handbook even has a separate paragraph addressing the practice, where the term is explained and some warnings are given to make lane splitting safer for motorcyclists. In particular, the handbook places emphasis on riders’ vulnerability during lane filtering since they can get hit by vehicles turning or changing lanes, as well as by an opening door or even by a hand coming out a window.

Though no specific recommendations are given there as to how to avoid the above-mentioned risks, the whole Keeping Your Distance section is focused on sharing the road with other vehicles, when passing and being passed, merging, riding alongside, following, and being followed. Make sure you read this section thoroughly since many of its recommendations apply to lane splitting. Also, it is useful to check whether your knowledge of traffic rules is strong enough through taking a sample test on, where exam questions about whitelining can be found, too.

This is especially important since the legality of lane splitting in California does not waive your legal responsibility in case of a traffic accident. While California laws allow lane splitting, you are still responsible for driving safely. And what if your insurance adjuster considers your actions as reckless driving? You see, there’s is a fine line between safe and unsafe, and you need to exercise extra caution when whitelining. So, what should you keep in mind when lane splitting in California or traveling somewhere in Europe or Asia?

Tips on Safe Lane Splitting

Despite the heated debate about the pros and cons of lane splitting, there are still no official guidelines on safe filtering practice, even in California. Thus, motorcyclists have no choice but to figure out some safe driving tips on their own. In order to help them, we have collected useful recommendations from both experienced motorcycle operators and Highway Patrol officers.

  • It is safer to lane filter when the traffic stops or moves slowly at a speed of no higher than 30-50 mph. If the traffic moves faster, it is better to join the flow, riding in your lane rather than between lanes, since you will otherwise have neither room nor time to maneuver in order to avoid a collision.
  • For the same reason, do not speed when filtering. Your optimum speed is just 10-15 mph higher than the traffic flow speed since this gives you enough time to identify a hazardous situation and to react appropriately.    
  • Do not filter if traffic rows are too narrow and there is little space between lanes. Remember that you need some extra space to maneuver if an obstacle pops up.
  • Proceed with caution when reaching turns and exits since many drivers perform last minute maneuvers and may not anticipate you being there.  
  • Also, be extra careful when riding alongside large vehicles, as they have greater blind spots, while their weight tends to make collisions with motorcycles really fatal.  
  • Look ahead, but don’t forget to check both sides. Any car you are next to can make an unexpected maneuver, thus hitting or knocking you under the wheels of another vehicle.  
  • Cover your controls and be ready to brake or accelerate depending on the situation. Note that by choosing a gear lower than usual (if possible), you can avail of more responsive braking or speeding.  
  • Don’t split lanes if you are a novice operator, especially when riding on highways.

Now, you know where and how to lane split and it is time to refresh other traffic rules of your state by passing a sample test on!