Lane Splitting: Time Saver or Insanity?
February 22, 2006
By Ray Kim
One of the most hotly debated topics in motorcycling is
whether or not lane splitting is a good idea. To the
hardened motorcycle commuters in California's big cities,
it's a necessity and a huge time saver. To just about
anyone else who's seen it done, it's insane. Generally
speaking, here are the broad arguments on both sides
of the fence:
- It saves time for the rider.
- It's better than sitting in traffic, waiting to get
- If riders are splitting lanes instead of taking a
space in traffic, everyone moves faster.
- It's too dangerous.
- Car drivers resent it.
- Cars get damaged by careless riders.
- Is getting rear-ended worse
than getting knocked off your bike while splitting
Even the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, the recognized
authority on motorcycle safety issues in the U.S., tries to
steer clear of controversy when it comes to lane splitting.
Here's an abstract from a June 9, 2004 Los Angeles Times
"For the record, Ken Glaser, spokesman for the
Motorcycle Safety Foundation, says lane-splitting is not
part of the foundation's instructional curriculum for
motorcycle riders. 'We don't take a position pro or con
on the issue,' said Glazer. If riders want to get away
from heavy traffic on the freeways, 'we recommend they
use the carpool lanes.'"
So Is It Illegal or Not?
The only place in the U.S. where it's allowed is
California, and even then there is no law that explicitly
allows the practice - there's just no law that explicitly
disallows it. One law that can be applied to lane
splitting is California Vehicle Code 22350, or the Basic
Speed Law, which has been in effect in its current form
since September 20, 1963:
"No person shall drive a vehicle upon a highway at
a speed greater than is reasonable or prudent having due
regard for weather, visibility, the traffic on, and the
surface and width of, the highway, and in no event at a
speed which endangers the safety of persons or
The open-ended language leaves a lot of leeway for an
officer to determine whether or not a lane splitter deserves
a citation. If traffic is at a complete standstill and
cars are unable to move or change lanes, splitting lanes at
a low speed seems reasonably safe. If traffic is
moving at 20 mph and a motorcyclist is splitting lanes at 60
mph, that could easily be construed as beyond "reasonable or
prudent." Basically it's purely a judgment call on an
The Public Perception
Just as important as whether or not it's legal, lane
splitting is somewhat tolerated and expected by California
drivers. Many drivers will surprisingly move their
cars in heavy traffic to accommodate lane splitters.
In other states, drivers are less apt to expect lane
splitters and may not be as generous.
That's not to say the drivers in California like it either.
In fact, on January 12, 2006, a disc jockey on San Francisco
radio station LIVE 105 caused quite an uproar with
statements he made on the air about his resentment of
motorcyclists splitting lanes while he sat in traffic.
He's originally from Chicago and had no idea the practice is
not illegal in California. You can download the clip
and listen for yourself. Here are some of the more
"One of my pet peeves is people on motorcycles who
think they don't have to wait in traffic like everybody
"Just because your car is skinny, that would be
like someone in a Mini Cooper squeezing between traffic,
and weaving in and out..."
"...like, you can't do that..."
"...and nothing would make me happier than to
watch somebody... open a door and take you out if you're
trying to squeeze through people who have been sitting
in traffic for 45 minutes..."
"I don't wanna see anybody get hurt honestly...
but I mean you get so mad, so frustrated..."
If you want to see what the response and result was from
all of this, click
here to read the Bay Area Rider's Forum (yes, that spells
BARF) thread that really got everything going. In
short, motorcycle awareness got a little boost out of the
whole thing. Regardless, it's no picnic out there when
it comes to what the car driving general public thinks about
lane splitting. Many of them resent it for a myriad of
reasons, and you should keep that in mind when you think
about whether or not you're going to do it.
Is There Any Data to Support Either Argument?
There is no hard, reliable data on whether or not lane
splitting is safer than sitting in traffic. The only
official, credible motorcycle safety study ever conducted in
the U.S. was the famous "Hurt Report" conducted in 1979 by
USC professor Harry Hurt and commissioned by the National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Hurt's team
studied motorcycle accidents for two years and produced a
multitude of useful statistics, but lane splitting itself
was not a focus of the study. Hurt however has become
a well respected figure when it comes to motorcycle safety
and he certainly has something to say about it:
A quote from Harry Hurt that appeared in a January 8,
1996 Los Angeles Times Article:
"One of the most critical things for motorcyclists
on the freeway is all the junk on the road," Hurt said.
"If he is in a lane following a car, he can't see what's
on the freeway until it comes flying up in front of him.
If he's out there splitting lanes, on the other hand, he
can see what's coming."
This quote is from an interview of Hurt by David Hough, a
very well respected motorcycle journalist and author of
“Everybody has their own ideas and opinions about
this issue, but there are no recent factual data of any
kind. No benefactor has supported any further research
to investigate this issue. Hopefully, the future will
bring help and financial support for these and other
This is from an interview by Art Friedman on
"Hurt had been rear-ended and had required surgery
on his neck. His brand new truck suffered major damage
too. 'The stupid part,' said Hurt, 'was that if I'd been
on a motorcycle, I wouldn't have had the accident. I
would have split lanes and never gotten hit.'"
So Should I Do It or Not?
The best thing to do is to take in all the factors
involved and decide for yourself. One thing's for
sure; you shouldn't do it if you're not comfortable or
confident in your evasive riding skills. Here's a list
of tips that every experienced lane splitter seems to share:
- Splitting is safest when traffic is stopped and cars
are unable to move or change lanes.
- Don't travel too much faster than the cars you're
passing. The faster you're passing cars while
splitting, the more you are putting yourself in danger.
- The lanes on far left are much safer to split than
the lanes on the far right.
- Drivers are more erratic near freeway transitions
and off ramps.
- Watch every indicator you can: turn signals, tires
pointed one way or the other, drivers' heads, etc.
- Cover those brakes.
- If traffic starts moving at a reasonable pace, stop
splitting and jump back into a lane.
- If you can't fit between the next set of cars, wait.
Don't expect them to make room for you.
- Passing on the outside shoulders is illegal; the
right shoulder is very dangerous near an off ramp.
- Some freeways and highways have narrower lanes than
- Keep your bike off the Botts Dots (those round
reflective things between lanes).
- Watch your mirrors for other bikers behind you that
want to go even faster. Pull into a lane and let
them pass; don't let them intimidate you into riding
faster than you really want to.
- Lane changing occurs more frequently when traffic is
slowing down; be very cautious at those moments.
Aggressive drivers looking for faster lanes may not look
Miscellaneous Quotes and Links
This section may be appended from time to time. A
Google search for "lane splitting accident" or "lanesplitting
accident" (some people have spelling issues) will bring up
countless results including forum threads. Forum
threads are interesting as people shoot opinions (informed
or not) straight from the hip. The few that I've
included here are from one of my home forums. There
are infinite others.
- A quote from California attorney and motorcycle law
specialist Russ Brown's web site:
"California motorcycle accident law allows for
lane splitting, although anyone lane splitting needs
to be aware of the possibility for injury, as many
car drivers do not understand this and are not
looking for a rider coming up between the lanes of
traffic. California motorcycle law as it applies to
lane splitting requires that the rider do so with
reasonable safety, including passing at a safe speed
and changing lanes in a safe manner. We have even
had cases where an angry driver has opened their
door into a motorcycle splitting lanes causing
injury and damages."
CORRECTION: SEE CORRECTION APPENDED;
Lane-splitting -- In a column about motorcycle
lane-splitting in Wednesday's Highway 1 section,
Candysse Miller was identified as being with the
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. She is
executive director of the Insurance Information
Network of California. Also, Ron Burch was
identified as a sergeant with the California Highway
Patrol. His title is CHP officer and spokesman.;
Motorcycles -- In a column on motorcycle
lane-splitting in the May 19 edition of Highway 1,
Candysse Miller, executive director of the Insurance
Information Network of California, was incorrectly
identified as being from the Insurance Institute for
Highway Safety. In the same column, California
Highway Patrol spokesman Ron Burch was mistakenly
identified as a sergeant with the department. His
title is CHP officer and spokesman.