Safe Riding

Lane Splitting – Is it Legal, Is it Safe?

Written by  June 30, 2005

The other day, one of our readers suggested that we add lane splitting information to our Motorcycle Laws by State page. This seemed like a reasonable request, especially since I’ve been known to get stuck in rush hour traffic while on a road trip. I decided to do a little research and was a bit surprised by what I found.

From what I can tell, the only state in the US that allows lane splitting is California. Why is it legal in California you may ask? Because it’s not illegal!

Texas seems to be tinkering with the idea and Washington had a bill that would make lane splitting legal in their state, however it got held up in legislature, much like we get held up in traffic on our bikes, and has little chance of passing.

This brings up another question. Is lane splitting safe? Common sense tells us that riding between stopped or slow moving vehicles with only a few inches to spare on both sides of our hand grips is probably asking for trouble. Would I like to be able to legally lane split? You bet! Do I think it’s safe? Depends.

In California, motorcyclists can split lanes as long as they do it safely. What safely means is up to interpretation, however, it seems to be based on the officer's judgment.

For example, a rider zipping through bumper-to-bumper traffic at 60 mph is just asking for a speeding ticket or a one way ticket to the morgue, but one cruising by at 15 to 20 mph probably isn't going to get you killed, unless some A-hole decides to cut you off or open their car door to see what the holdup is. While many drivers and motorcyclists think lane splitting is dangerous and a little crazy, the 1981 Hurt Report said the practice reduces serious motorcycle crashes!

''It's actually the safest place for motorcycles to be on the freeway,'' said Harry Hurt, a semi-retired USC professor who wrote the report and has studied motorcycle collisions for about half a century.

Lane splitting keeps motorcyclists from being sandwiched between cars in traffic and makes it easier for them to avoid hitting freeway debris, such as tire rubber, which might be hidden by vehicles in front of them, he said.

''The visibility you get in between the lanes is a major factor,'' he said. Lane splitting increases the chance of a side impact, but Hurt said those are less dangerous than rear-end collisions on a motorcycle. Riders should watch the front wheels of vehicles ahead of them as they cut through traffic to make sure no one is about to change lanes, and they also shouldn't drive faster than about 20 mph. ''If you do that, you are in pretty good shape,'' he said.

Unless you happen to live in California, or possibly Texas in the near future, don’t hold your breath that you’ll be able to legally slip through traffic on your way to work anytime soon.

By Mike Schweder