California is the only state in the United States where lane splitting is explicitly legal. Four other states allow modified versions of it. They are Hawaii, Montana, Utah, and Arizona.
As for the other states, a majority have deemed the practice illegal. And then a few states do not have specific laws prohibiting it. But even in their cases, it can be said that the states do not encourage the practice.
Lane splitting is the practice of riding a motorbike between two lanes of traffic traveling in the same direction. Motorcycle riders often consider it a convenient way of bypassing traffic congestion. However, despite its popularity, it’s a controversial topic.
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Lane splitting and maneuvers similar to it
Per California law, lane splitting is defined as “a motorcycle ridden between rows of stopped or moving vehicles in the same lane including on both divided and undivided streets, roads, or highways.” This is legal in the state.
What are other types of traffic maneuvers similar to lane splitting?
- Lane filtering: This is when a motorcyclist is weaving between slower-moving traffic or traffic that is stationary.
- Lane sharing: This is when two or more motorcyclists share the same lane side-by-side or staggered. Some states consider them legal.
There is also another type of lane splitting, also called white lining. This is when a motorcyclist weaves between moving traffic at a higher speed. It usually involves staying predominantly on the lane-dividing white line. However, responsible motorcyclists often consider this bad practice.
Which states allow motorcycle land splitting?
California is the most well-known state when it comes to the legality of lane splitting. In 2016, it became the first state to legalize it. Although it was never “illegal,” the state of California enacted house bill AB 51 to officially make lane splitting legal.
However, motorcycle drivers must follow lane-splitting etiquette. They are:
- Motorcyclists should not drive at a higher speed than ten mph more than surrounding traffic.
- Avoid lane splitting when traffic is going faster than 30 mph.
- Lane splitting is now allowed close to freeway on-ramps and exits.
The California Highway Patrol offers lane-splitting motorcycle safety tips for riders. It is meant to help riders avoid a lane-splitting accident.
While California is the only state to make lane splitting legal officially, four other states allow a modified version of it. They are Utah, Montana, Hawaii, and Arizona.
In 2019, Utah became the first state after California to legalize a form of motorcycle lane-splitting. The law allows motorcycles to travel between traffic lanes of stopped traffic only. This is known as lane filtering.
But state law says that lane filtering is only legal when the posted speed limit is 45 mph or less. And the motorcyclist’s speed does not exceed 15 mph when passing traffic. The road should also have at least two lanes going in the same direction.
However, shoulder surfing and passing in a bike lane are not permitted.
In 2018, Hawaii passed a new law allowing shoulder surfing in stopped traffic. This is an alternative to lane filtering.
In approved areas, motorcyclists can use road shoulders to pass stopped traffic. But this is allowed only on roads with at least two lanes in each direction. And it should have a shoulder lane wide enough to safely accommodate the vehicle.
However, Hawaii’s narrow roads can pose a higher risk to motorcycle riders. They don’t make lane splitting or filtering safe or ideal.
In October 2021, Montana passed a new law, Senate Bill 9, to make lane splitting conditionally legal in the state. This bill allows motorcyclists to lane split to overtake stopped or slow vehicles in certain conditions. They are as follows:
- The motorcyclist’s speed does not exceed 20 mph.
- The lanes should be wide enough and road conditions and traffic are safe.
- The lane-splitting motorcyclist should stay within ten mph of the speed of other traffic while lane-splitting.
However, lane filtering is only allowed when passing stopped or slow traffic, traveling no more than ten mph in the same direction.
Arizona is the latest state to legalize a type of lane-splitting. Senate Bill 1273, passed on September 24, 2022, makes lane filtering legal.
As per state law, motorcyclists are allowed to ride between lanes of traffic stopped at a light. This helps riders avoid the dangers of rear-end collisions or being stuck between two vehicles during stopped traffic.
However, lane filtering in AZ is legal only under certain conditions. They are:
- The posted speed limit is 45 mph or less.
- The motorcyclist is not exceeding 15 mph.
- The street has two or more lanes in the same direction of travel.
- The driver is passing a car stopped in the same lane.
- The rider is passing between lanes of traffic, not on the median or shoulder.
- The law does not apply to motorcycles with sidecars.
States where lane splitting is illegal by law
Many states have laws that specifically prohibit lane splitting by motorcycle riders. They include Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, and New Hampshire.
It is also illegal by law in New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
However, lane sharing with no more than two motorcycles abreast is allowed in most of the states mentioned above.
Currently, some states, including Maryland, Connecticut, and Washington, have bills on deck to legalize a regulated form of lane splitting. Let’s see if they come to pass.
States that have no specific laws regarding lane splitting
Some states do not have specific laws regarding lane splitting – it’s a gray area. Some of them have motorcycle laws where it can be implied that it is legal, while others have laws that implicitly discourage it.
These states are Arkansas, Delaware, the District of Columbia (Washington, DC), Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and West Virginia.
Many of these states do allow lane sharing with two motorcycles side by side in the same lane.
However, the Idaho Rules of the Road handbook for motorcyclists does specifically state that “the practice of lane splitting is not legal in Idaho.”
So, which states allow motorcycle lane splitting? The only one to truly legalize lane splitting is California. But four other states also allow a modified version of lane splitting. They are Utah, Hawaii, Montana, and Oregon.
The topic of the safety of lane splitting is controversial. On the one hand, lane-splitting motorcyclists say it is a safer alternative for motorcyclists than sitting in slow-moving traffic or stationary traffic. It is also believed to help alleviate heavy traffic congestion.
On the other hand, opponents say that it poses a great risk to both motorcyclists and other vehicle drivers. This is especially if there are inattentive drivers involved.
An old study by the University of California Berkeley has found that lane splitting may be safer for motorcyclists than traditionally riding in a lane during heavy traffic periods. But the jury is still out on it.
Whichever side you fall on, it’s important to always follow your state law and practice safe riding.