Content provided by Slawomir Platta, Esq.
The justification for lane splitting and lane filtering couldn’t be clearer: they allow motorcycles to get out ahead of traffic, thereby reducing the number of cars crashing into cycles, as cycles are far less visible than other vehicles. A no-brainer, right? A save-brainer, actually. So, it would seem logical that lane splitting and lane filtering should be the law of the land. And yet they’re not. At least not yet. Though things seem headed in that direction considering that a number of states have already legalized them.
The pros and cons of lane splitting/filtering
To some, it’s a safe and practical way for motorcyclists to beat traffic and help ease congestion.
And it’s not just in favor of motorcycle riders. Of course, motorcyclists can filter to the front of traffic lines and that saves time on their journey, but it also frees up space for other motorists.
To others, lane splitting/filtering is a dangerous act that causes accidents and puts lives at risk. This difference of opinion has caused many a debate in recent years, especially as California made changes to its laws in 2016 that legalized the maneuver.
The American Motorcycle Association has long held that lane splitting makes roads safer for riders and relieves traffic congestion, a view based largely on the successful use of the practice in California and a research study conducted by the University of California, Berkeley. Led by the university’s Safe Transportation Research and Education Center, the UC Berkley study found that lane filtering can be a safe practice if traffic is moving slower than 50 mph and riders aren’t moving more than 15 mph faster than the other vehicles on the road.
Rear-end collisions are the biggest threat to a motorcyclist in stop-and-go traffic; when cyclists get rear-ended, it’s not just an inconvenience and maybe a minor case of whiplash. It can be devastating. By moving out of the line of vehicles and into a clear path where cyclists can see what’s ahead and react, they’re out of harm’s way from behind and able to take control of their own fate.
Which U.S. states have legalized lane splitting/filtering?
Lane splitting has been legalized in several states. These include:
- California – California was one of the first states to embrace lane-splitting even before it was legalized; motorists and motorcyclists respected the practice for years. In 2016, it was declared legal across the state. California is the only state in America to make lane splitting legal officially. Assembly Bill No. 51.
- Arizona – Gov. Doug Ducey signed SB 1273, which allows motorcycle riders to get along the side of and pass a car that is stopped in the same lane. The law says it will be legal as long as the speed limit for the street is 45 miles per hour or slower, and the motorcyclist doesn’t go faster than 15 miles per hour. AZ SB1007 | 2020 | Fifty-fourth Legislature 2nd Regular.
- Hawaii – Though lane splitting is technically not legal because Hawaii’s roads may be too narrow, the state has allowed shoulder surfing for motorcyclists on the island when there is traffic congestion.
- Connecticut – Senate Bill 629 was recently introduced in Connecticut, and lawmakers are currently discussing legalizing lane splitting and filtering. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Transportation, but there hasn’t been any news since proposed.
- Utah – In March 2019, Utah followed California’s example by becoming the second state to legalize filtering formally. The Utah Highway Patrol was proactive about the new law, having launched an awareness campaign to inform motorists a month and a half ahead of the change. Although it’s not as permissive as lane splitting, lane filtering can help motorcyclists avoid being tailgated when on the road.
- Oregon – House Bill 2314, a proposition to make lane splitting legal, has been introduced to the Speaker’s desk and is currently in discussion. If the bill passes, motorcyclists will be allowed to travel between cars on roadways with speed limits of 50 mph or more and traffic moving at 10 mph or slower.
- Washington – In 2015, Washington introduced a bill to legalize lane splitting, which did not pass. Then, four years later, lawmakers reintroduced Senate Bill 5254, which was left hanging for discussion. On January 13, 2020, the same Senate Bill was reintroduced and is still pending approval.
- On October 1, 2021, Montana became the 3rd state to legalize lane splitting with the passing of S.B. 9, which “allows the operator of a two-wheeled motorcycle to overtake stopped or slow-moving vehicles at a speed not in excess of 20 mph, to filter between lanes of stopped traffic traveling in the same direction as conditions permit, and specifies reasonable and prudent motorcycle operation while lane filtering.”
- Virginia – At the beginning of the year, Representative Tony Wilt introduced House Bill 1236 to amend the Code of Virginia, this allowing land splitting in the state. This bill has already been referred to the Committee on Transportation and awaiting approval.
All other states have either banned lane splitting or simply don’t have laws addressing the issue, although a number of states have opened discussions about the possibility of making motorcycle lane splitting or filtering legal.
What’s it like in states in which lane splitting/filtering is illegal?
As an example of possible penalties from the states giving the thumbs-down to lane splitting, New York explicitly outlaws lane splitting in all of its different forms, per the Vehicle and Traffic Law (VTL) 1252. According to this law, motorcyclists cannot drive between designated traffic lanes or adjacent rows of vehicle traffic. (VTL) 1252 also grants motorcyclists several other privileges and protections, including the right to ride two abreast in a given lane. In addition, motorcyclists also have the right to the full use of a traffic lane. Subsection (d) also prohibits motorcyclists from riding more than two to a lane. On a defendant’s first conviction for lane splitting, the maximum penalty for lane splitting is a fine of $150.00, 15 days in jail, a surcharge of $88.00 and 2 points. However, motorcyclists can have significant leverage in motorcycle injury cases, if they are not wholly at fault. According to CBS 2 New York reporting, however, it appears unlikely that New York City would change this ban on lane splitting.
It’s worth noting that lane splitting is legal in many other countries, including most of Europe.
The biggest downside to lane splitting right now is that it’s not consistent across the country, and for it to be truly safe that needs to change. Every state needs to legalize and train drivers for it. It’s just the smart thing to do.
Call to action
If you happen to live in a state where lane-splitting bills are still pending approval, stay up to date with legislation in your state, and contact your legislator to support lane-splitting legalization.
Slawomir Platta, Esq.
Founding Partner | The Platta Law Firm, PLLC
Slawomir Platta earned his degree from the University of Florida Levin College of Law. He’s been trying motorcycle accident cases throughout the Courts of New York for almost 20 years and has been featured as a Super Lawyer consecutively since 2015.