Lane Splitting and the Law: Does the Practice Increase Safety?

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Riding a motorcycle offers fun and freedom not found with any other type of vehicle, but it also increases certain risks on the road. Lane splitting is a controversial practice that proponents say helps keep motorcyclists safe, but others say it increases the risk of getting in an accident. 

What is Lane Splitting?

When traveling in stop-and-go traffic, motorcyclists have two options. They can stay in their lane as if they were any other vehicle, or they can split lanes, which is when they move forward along the dashed lines between two lanes. 

Those in favor of the practice say it helps prevent accidents. Motorcycles are hard to see, and when mass sections of traffic stop, they face an increased risk of getting hit from behind by drivers. Lane splitting keeps motorcyclists out of the danger zone by allowing them to drive forward. 

Opponents say that while lane splitting might reduce the risk of rear-end collisions, it also increases the risk of a different type of motorcycle accident. After all, vehicles in stopped traffic do not form a straight line in the road. One slight miscalculation can result in the motorcycle slamming into the side of a stopped vehicle, injuring not only themselves but possibly also other parties. 

Lane Splitting Statistics Help Reveal the True Risk

Proponents are right in at least one regard: Lane splitting does reduce the risk of rear-end collisions. A study by the American Motorcycle Association found lane splitters had a 2.6 percent chance of getting rear-ended, while those who stayed in their lane saw the risk jump to 4.6 percent. 

However, the main argument against lane splitting is that it increases other types of accidents. In the 6,000 motorcycle accidents reviewed in the study, 997 occurred when the motorcyclist was actively splitting lands, meaning they weren’t rear-ended. Additionally, research suggests lane splitting is safest when the motorcycle rider travels under 50 mph and does not exceed 15 mph beyond the speed of traffic flow. 

Lane Splitting’s Legality Across the United States

State laws regarding lane splitting fall into three categories:

  • It is explicitly allowed by law
  • It is explicitly not allowed by law
  • It is not mentioned by law, making it allowed by default

In 2017, the California legislature passed AB-51, which legalized line splitting. California is the only state with a law on the book specifically allowing lane splitting. 

Twelve states have no law legalizing or prohibiting law splitting. They are Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Ohio, Texas, and West Virginia. All other states legally prohibit lane splitting. However, Utah, Oregon, Washington, Connecticut, and Maryland have recently started debates on changing their respective laws. 

Final Thoughts

“While research suggests lane splitting can help protect motorcycle riders from rear-end collisions, they still face many dangers on the road,” said Ronald Hulsey. “Additionally, lane splitting is fairly obvious for law enforcement to detect, so if you do it in a state where it is not allowed, you face fines and legal penalties.”

As more research is conducted into lane splitting, legislators across the country gain the tools necessary to make informed decisions about the type of laws that can help protect motorcyclists. Even though lane splitting is currently prohibited in the majority of states, some of these laws will likely change in the future.   

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