Washington, Oregon, Montana follow California’s lead, consider bills to authorize lane splitting

On Jan. 1, California became the first state to explicitly allow motorcyclists to split lanes. Now, several other states have taken action by introducing bills aimed at defining and regulating the riding strategy. The American Motorcyclist Association recently called for riders in Washington, Oregon and Montana to support efforts to authorize lane splitting in their home states. 

  • Washington’s H.B. 1157 would allow riders to split lanes while traveling up to 10 mph faster than other motorists in traffic slower than 35 mph.
  • Oregon’s S.B. 385 would allow lane splitting at speeds of up to 20 mph on certain roadways in traffic moving 10 mph or slower.
  • Montana’s S.B. 134 would allow riders to split lanes at speeds of 20 mph or less when traffic is moving slower than 10 mph.

What is lane splitting?

Also known as lane sharing or filtering, lane splitting is the practice of riding a motorcycle between two lanes of traffic moving in the same direction. The strategy is often used by riders when bumper-to-bumper traffic has caused surrounding vehicles to slow significantly or come to a complete stop. Although it is legal in countries around the world, lane splitting has faced pushback in the U.S. and falls into a gray area of the traffic laws in many states.

lane splitting

Why is lane splitting controversial?

Motorcyclists typically view lane splitting as a way to save time and ride safely in congested traffic. Drivers of enclosed vehicles, who often have trouble keeping track of motorcycles under normal road conditions, tend to strongly oppose the practice.

A study released by UC Berkeley’s Safe Transportation Research and Education Center (SafeTREC) in 2015 offered support for the riding strategy, claiming lane splitting was “relatively safe” when practiced responsibly under appropriate conditions. If carried out at high speeds by a careless motorcyclist, however, lane splitting could easily cause a fatal crash.

Unclear laws and regulations on lane splitting leave the topic open for debate among motorists. As highlighted by the differences in the bills discussed above, it is unlikely that a universal description of appropriate conditions for lane splitting or regulation of the practice on a national level will be established anytime soon.

American Motorcyclist Association Support of Lane Splitting

The American Motorcyclist Association occasionally publishes statements issued by its Board of Directors to indicate the organization’s official stance on controversial trends, practices, policies and legislation affecting riders across the country. As discussed in the AMA’s position statement on lane splitting, congested stop-and-go traffic is one of the most dangerous environments for a motorcyclist. The organization endorses the responsible practice of lane splitting and is committed to assisting efforts to legally define and regulate the riding strategy.

Read the full AMA position statement on lane splitting.

Do you feel safer splitting lanes in heavy traffic, or are you hesitant to give it a try? Share your thoughts on this controversial issue in the comments.

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