Lane splitting, also known as lane filtering, lane sharing, and shoulder surfing, is a confusing topic due to the many and changing lane splitting laws.
If you’ve left you overwhelmed like most people, then do not worry. We are here to help you understand the concept of lane splitting and answer if it is legal or now.
You will find different definitions for the term on the internet. Wikipedia seems to have the most simple definition:
What is Lane Splitting?
The website defines lane splitting “as riding a motorcycle or bike between lanes or rows of slow moving or stopped traffic moving in the same direction.”
Known as whitelining and stripe-riding in some states, this technique is controversial as some believe that it can lead to accidents and other road problems.
While lane filtering and lane splitting are often used interchangeably, there seems to be a slight difference between the two. As mentioned above, lane splitting involves riding between two lanes of traffic; however, lane filtering involves using the shoulder or edge of the roadway “going forward in the same direction.”
Despite being similar, both maneuvers are different in the eyes of the law.
Is Lane Splitting Legal?
If you search the web, you will find that lane splitting is not legal in the country except for one state – California – where it was legalized when the state’s former governor, Jerry Brown, signed a landmark bill (Assembly Bill 51) in August 2016.
Lane splitting remains illegal in every other US state; however, California’s decision to legalize the practice caused some noise forcing other states to discuss the matter. There are bills pending in a number of states related to the matter and we may see lane splitting become legal in some other parts of the country as well.
Effective January 1, 2017, section 21658.1 was added to the California Vehicle Code. The code covers lane splitting in detail. Here’s what it says:
So, What Does the Lane Splitting Law Saw?
(a) For the purposes of this section, “lane splitting” means driving a motorcycle, as defined in Section 400, that has two wheels in contact with the ground, between rows of stopped or moving vehicles in the same lane, including on both divided and undivided streets, roads, or highways.
(b) The California Department of Highway Patrol may develop educational guidelines relating to lane splitting in a manner that would ensure the safety of the motorcyclist and the drivers and passengers of the surrounding vehicles.
(c) In developing the guidelines pursuant to this section, the department shall consult with agencies and organizations with an interest in road safety and motorcycle behavior, including, but not limited to, all of the following:
(1) The Department of Motor Vehicles
(2) The Department of Transportation
(3) The Office of Traffic Safety
(4) A motorcycle organization focused on motorcyclist safety.
We must mention that there’s a difference between lane splitting riding in the shoulder lane. While lane splitting is now legal in the state, riding in the shoulder lane is illegal and can get you into trouble.
Is Lane Splitting Safe?
Lane splitting is considered controversial due to safety concerns. Not many states or countries have legalized the practices due to safety issues. However, the opinion seems to be largely divided.
The California Office of Traffic Safety supports lane splitting, which is a major reason why lane splitting is legal in the state. A 2013 research performed by the department found that lane splitting can be safe. In fact, there are reasons to believe that it can reduce the number of road accidents, if practiced with care.
For a better understanding, here are some stats from the research paper:
- The research studied accident cases in the state for a few years where the total number of motorcycle crashes stood at 5,969.
- Out of this, about 17 percent of crashes involved lane splitting.
The report concluded that lane splitting is safe if all precautionary measures are taken.
Here’s an excerpt from the research paper:
“Lane-splitting appears to be a relatively safe motorcycle riding strategy if done in traffic moving at 50 MPH or less and if motorcyclists do not exceed the speed of other vehicles by more than 15 MPH.”
The report, however, did put a great emphasis on safety and following protocols. It says:
“Lane-splitting riders often put themselves closer to other vehicles than they otherwise would. This proximity reduces the time riders have to identify and react to changes in the behaviors of other motorists.”
Unfortunately, data on the safety of lane splitting appears to be scarce due to only one state having made it legal. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, however, appears to be open to the idea of pushing to make the practice legal in more states considering it accepts that the practice is legal in some other countries and “worthy of further study because it offers a means of reducing congestion in addition to possible safety benefits.
The agency seems to believe that “lane-splitting can provide an escape route for motorcyclists who would otherwise be trapped or struck from behind.”
We also have other studies to highlight the safety of lane splitting. A 2015 study by the University of California Berkeley concluded that lane splitting is safe “if it’s done in traffic moving at 50 mph or less and motorcyclists don’t exceed other vehicles’ speed by more than 15 mph.”
The same report also found that motorists involved in lane splitting are less likely to suffer torso or head injuries compared to riders who do not split.
Lane splitting is also supported by The American Motorcyclist Association, a fast-growing advocacy group working to make the practice legal in other US states.
But, not everyone seems to be eager to jump the bandwagon.
The Governors Highway Safety Association, for example, does not seem to have an opinion on the matter. However, one of the organization’s reps, Richard Retting, called it “a very risky activity.”
“There’s no compelling reason to allow lane splitting other than the most remote escape-route benefit for the motorcyclist,” said another motorcyclist.
Another organization not in support is AAA, which has helped defeat several proposals in different states including Texas, Georgia, and Hawaii.
“Motorists who don’t expect to be passed by a vehicle traveling between lanes can side-swipe a motorcycle or turn into its path,” said Richard Romer, the group’s state relations manager.
Those in support also agree that there appear to be some risks.
“It is very safe as long as you are keeping your speed reasonable compared to the surrounding traffic,” said a lobbyist working to make the practice legal “And it reduces traffic commute times for the rider and other drivers.”
Not Suitable in All Conditions
While lane splitting is legal in California, we must mention that there are a lot of rules that govern the practice including a list of ‘no lane splitting’ areas.
For your safety, it’s best to not indulge in the practice if:
- The road is in a poor condition
- Your view is not clear due to any reason
- You cannot fit the available space
- You are at a toll booth
- The traffic is moving at a very fast pace
- You cannot predict the traffic
- You do not know if there’s a clear way out
- The road is full of twists and turns
- You are not sure if you can pull it off
- There are a lot of big vehicles on the road
“With respect to possible law enforcement action, keep in mind that it will be up to the discretion of the Law Enforcement Officer to determine if riding behavior while lane splitting is or was safe and prudent,” says the CMSP.
Is Lane Splitting Legal? Safety Guidelines to Remember
Now that we have established lane splitting is legal in California, it is time to talk about safety guidelines to ensure everyone on the road remains safe:
Make Sure to Check Your Surroundings
Lane splitting is not considered safe or suitable for situations where your surroundings are not very clear due to situations such as much traffic, poor weather conditions, and low light. It is recommended to look around you and ensure you have a clear view when you lane split. You must be able to see your complete path. It should not be obstructed in any way; due to curvy roads or big vehicles. This is important because if you cannot see others then probably others cannot see you either.
- Know How Fast to Go
The general rule is to not go more than 10 MPH above the average speed limit at the time. This can be a little tricky because you cannot always be sure how fast others are going; hence it is best that you do not try to go faster than other vehicles because the faster you move, the riskier it gets. According to experts, a speed differential of 10MPH or less is suitable as it allows an alert and competent rider to be able to clearly identify potential risks and hazards and take the right call at the right time. If you are moving too fast, you may not have enough time to react to a sudden situation.
- Check the Speed of Other Vehicles
You don’t only have to make sure you’re not faster than other vehicles on the road, you must also not try to lane split if others on the road are going 30 MPH or higher. After all, crashes do not always occur due to the mistake of a single person. Even if you’re going slow, the other person might be too fast. The science is simple – the faster you or others are, the less time you or others will have to react to a sudden situation. Braking and stopping distance largely depend on the speed.
If others are going too fast, they may not be able to apply the brakes at the right time, resulting in crashes. Moreover, crashes that involve ‘fast moving vehicles’ cause more damage than crashes that involve ‘slow moving vehicles’. Hence, for your safety and for the safety of others on the road, avoid lane splitting if others are moving too fast.
- Gauge the Situation
Riders do not always have the time to gauge the situation and see if it’s the right time to lane split or not, despite it being very important. The most important thing is the condition of the road. Lane splitting might not be safe for roads that are too thin or full of potholes as they can lead to unnecessary complications and accidents. Enter a lane that can accommodate your vehicle and ensure weather conditions are in your favor. Snow or rain can make things complicated. Also, it might be a good idea to wear something bright so that it is easy for others to see you even if it’s dark.
- Don’t Lose Focus
Lane splitting may not be suitable for people who are new to riding or who are not very comfortable on the road as it requires full attention. Riders need to be alert and present. You must be able to anticipate the actions of other riders and drivers on the road without losing your focus. You’ll get very little time to react. Things can change very fast. A gap may open all of a sudden or another vehicle may take your targeted space.
Similarly, you might have to make a call if other vehicles, especially big vehicles on the road, change lanes. However, make sure to know when to stop. Don’t be the person that keeps looking for an opportunity to change lanes. That’s not only risky but also unappreciated.
You have to follow all the laws when riding. Don’t get on a bike if you’re impaired or distracted. Avoid using your phone and do not ride in a blindspot.
- Choose the Right Lane
While there are no laws, it is best that you choose the first or the second lane if you wish to lane split since these two lanes (to furthest left) are commonly used by motorists and drivers usually expect riders to use these two lanes only.
Choosing other lanes is not against the law, but it can end up causing trouble unless the lane is very clearly visible with little to no traffic. Also, it is best to avoid lanes that are close to ramps and exits. Similarly, lanes that attract a lot of riders can be unsafe as well.
These guidelines have been developed by California Highway Patrol for the safety of motorcyclists and motorists. Make sure to be on your best behavior and follow these guidelines when on the road.
Is Lane Splitting Legal? Risks and Issues
If you read history, you will find out that it wasn’t easy to legalize lane splitting in California due to several groups being against the idea. However, the practice has been proven to be safe and beneficial for the state. Still, it doesn’t come without risks.
You can get into accidents if you’re not careful enough. Accidents involving bikes and motorbikes can be quite scary since these vehicles provide very little protection, unlike cars that come with airbags and other such features.
Some injuries faced by riders include brain damage, internal bruising, muscle damage, and fractures. These injuries don’t only result in physical pain but financial difficulties as well. Plus, some can have long-term effects.
In addition to this, one may also have to bear other expenses including litigation costs if there are other parties involved in the accident.
Lane Splitting and Accidents
Lane splitting is generally safe but there can still be accidents that can result in physical injuries and damage to assets.
Since lane splitting is not a very commonly discussed topic, very few riders and drivers in California understand lane splitting laws or their rights. The issue is that the law is not very clear when it comes to lane splitting and it can be a little difficult to prove liability in cases involving lane splitting.
The state is yet to introduce a formal law that covers lane splitting. This leaves a large gray area.
Since lane splitting is legal, the motorist isn’t considered a culprit just for practicing lane splitting. In other states, where lane splitting is illegal, the motorist is considered to be at-fault automatically. However, the motorist will be at fault if he or she was caught riding in an unsafe manner.
For example, if the rider was going above the speed limit then the law would consider him or her the culprit. Similarly, if the driver or the other party was caught to be breaking the law then he or she would be considered the wrongdoer.
Confusion occurs when nobody involved broke the law. In such cases, it can be very difficult to prove innocence. You may need to hire the services of an experienced attorney to prove your case.
In most cases, safety guidelines and the general law are used to gauge whether the rider was lane splitting safely or not.
Will I Need an Attorney?
While an attorney may not always be necessary, you might need one if your case is complicated and reaches the court of law or if you feel you’re being caught wrongly.
It can be hard to take care of things on your own because the law is not always on your side and it can be very clear. You will need an experienced attorney to find proof on your behalf and prove your innocence.
It can be hard to find an attorney with experience handling similar cases since lane splitting cases are not very common. We suggest that you look for someone with experience in the niche to brighten your chances.
FAQ About Lane Splitting in California
Still have questions about lane splitting? Check these FAQ out:
- Is lane splitting legal in California?
Yes, lane splitting is legal in California. It is the only US state where lane splitting is considered legal.
- Why is lane splitting not legal in other US states?
There are a variety of reasons including a lack of consensus on the issue. While there’s great support for lane splitting, some drivers, organizations, and politicians are against legalizing the concept.
- Can lane splitting in California result in a fine?
No, you will not get fined in California just for lane splitting; however, you might have to face issues if you are caught lane splitting in an unsafe manner or if your actions result in accidents.
- Can someone with a California license lane split in another state?
No, it does not matter where your driver’s license is from, what matters is the rule of the state. If lane splitting is illegal in a state then you cannot perform it.
- Can someone from another state lane split in California?
Yes, you can. The law permits everyone with a valid license to practice lane splitting in California.
- Who is liable if there is a lane splitting accident in California?
The law is not very clear about this issue and the outcome changes from case to case. Lane splitting in itself is not a crime in California; the person caught lane splitting will be held liable only if he broke other laws such as negligent riding, etc.
- What if I get a lane splitting ticket in California?
California doesn’t issue lane splitting tickets since the practice is legal in the state. However, you might get a ticket for speeding, negligent driving, etc., If you get a ticket, decide whether you want to pay it or fight it. You may need to hire the services of a professional to fight your case.
- Can lane splitting result in accidents?
Yes, it can result in accidents and mishaps if you are not careful enough. The best way to avoid accidents is to follow all guidelines.