Lane-Splitting or Filtering, as the practice of riding a motorcycle between lanes of slow or stopped traffic is called, has received lots of national attention. There is still quite a bit of misinformation out there, so here are some facts that may clear up this controversial issue.
There is one state – California – where motorcyclists may legally ride between lanes of stopped or slow traffic. In every other state, it’s either explicitly (as in very specifically mentioned in the law) against the law or outlawed in practice, usually as reckless driving or some other statute. Several states, including Texas, Nevada, Washington and Oregon have pending bills in their legislatures to legalize this practice in some form, but as of this writing it’s still not okay. So don’t do it outside of California unless you want to risk a ticket!
According to a 2013 study at U.C. Berkeley’s Safe Transportation Research and Education Center (SafeTREC), lane-splitting California riders were 1.8% less likely to suffer a fatal injury and 2% less likely to be struck from behind. Earlier studies from Europe and Australia have made similar conclusions.
In a survey of California motorcyclists from 2013, 36.4% of daily riders reported splitting lanes. Legalizing lane-splitting doesn’t turn the roads into maelstroms of weaving, unpredictable motorcyclists!
So you think you can have your lane-splitting cake and eat it, too? Well, you can… if you’re smart. The SafeTREC study showed that accident and fatality rates were fewer only if the rider was traveling at less than 50 mph and the speed differential was 15 mph or less. Otherwise, it’s riskier than riding in your own lane.
How much is your time worth? According to a 2015 Texas Traffic Institute article, the average urban commuter spends 42 hours a year stuck in traffic. In my experience, lane-splitting typically cuts your commute time in half if most of it is through a badly congested area. That’s 21 hours – half a workweek – of your life that you can gain back. Multiply 21 by your take-home pay and that’s probably enough to cover a few bike payments!