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Can Motorcycles Split Lanes? Legalities, Facts & FAQs

motorcycles parked outdoor

Each state has its own laws regarding lane splitting. The legality is often a bit gray, though. Even in states where it is technically illegal, many police officers do not enforce it. Therefore, it all depends on where you a driving.

Many people have strong opinions about lane splitting. The research seems to suggest that lane splitting is actually safer for motorcycles when they are sitting in traffic. It can also help traffic move faster and improve congestion. However, that doesn’t change the fact that it is illegal in many states.

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Where is Lane Splitting Illegal?

The laws for each state vary in regards to lane splitting. Plus, they seem to change randomly without any real reason as to why they changed. Some states do not even have any laws passed on the matter. In these cases, it may be up to the local police department whether or not this practice is legal.

The only state that blatantly states lane splitting is legal is California. They legally declared the practice okay across the state in 2016. No other state has done so since.

In Arizona, lane splitting was almost legal, but the bill did not pass the state Senate. However, talks are still underway, and we may find that lane splitting becomes legal in the future in Arizona.

Hawaii is a bit complicated. Their roads are too narrow for lane splitting most of the time. However, they do allow “shoulder surfing” in areas with congestion.

Several other states have also attempted to pass laws encouraging lane splitting. However, none of them have passed. Some talks are still underway in various states. Still, there is no sign that a bill in any of the other states will be passing any time soon.

male rider riding his motorcycle
Image Credit: TSKvado, Pixabay

What Does the Science Say?

There has been very little research done on lane splitting in the United States, as it is illegal in most areas. However, in California (the only state where it is legal), motorcyclists are rear-ended 30% less than in other states. Lane splitting may have something to do with this.

In many cases, lane splitting is a giant gray area when it comes to the current research. More studies are needed to find out if lane-splitting makes motorcyclists safer or not.

In many countries outside of the United States, lane splitting is completely legal and very common. It helps improve congestion and is legal in most areas. Therefore, it seems that the United States is the strange one in this regard.

What Speed Can Motorcycles Split Lanes?

In most areas in the United States, it is illegal to split lanes ever. Therefore, no speed is safe if you’re paying attention to the law alone. However, California does allow lane splitting and confines it to speeds slower than 40 mph. The bike cannot travel more than 10 miles faster than the cars around then while lane splitting.

Therefore, bikes may improve their time by a little bit, but they won’t be traveling at highway speeds in stand-still traffic.

It is up to police officers to determine whether the motorcycle’s actions are safe or unsafe. If an officer thinks that the motorcycle’s actions are not safe, they can give them a ticket. Whether or not this practice is safe is determined on a case-by-case basis.

motorcycle rider travelling on the road
Image Credit: Piqsels

Why Is Lane Splitting Legal in California?

California largely sees lane splitting as a tool to decrease traffic congestion. Out of all the states, California has the most freeway traffic. Therefore, they are in the biggest need of a decongestion tool. Lane splitting is an easy and relatively safe way to do this and it is likely that they made lane splitting legal largely based on these practical reasons.

However, in states without much congestion, the small amount of decongestion lane splitting would lead to wouldn’t do much. Therefore, in many states, it doesn’t actually need to be legal. However, many could argue that it doesn’t need to be illegal, either.

In fact, lane splitting has been found to be relatively safe and there are no reasons why you shouldn’t allow motorcycles to lane split, assuming they are not moving too quickly. Studies have also found that lane-splitting drivers are likely to drive during weekdays on a commute, and generally drive safer than other motorcyclists.

Lane splitting is completely legal in California. However, it does not look like other states will make it legal anytime soon.

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Lane splitting is not particularly legal in the United States. While this law falls under the purview of each state, only California has currently made it legal. In all other states, it is currently illegal. Utah and Montana allow motorcycles to do something similar to lane splitting in very restricted conditions. However, they call this practice “lane filtering”.

Currently, lane splitting seems like it will stay illegal in most areas for some time. However, there is always the chance that it may be legalized in more areas to come. Talks are occurring in some states, and potential bills are constantly being put to the test by various state legislators.

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Featured Image Credit: Erik Tanghe, Pixabay


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