Legal > Motorcycle Lane Splitting: Legality by State + Guidelines

Motorcycle Lane Splitting: Legality by State + Guidelines


You either love it or hate it, lane splitting is a controversial subject that doesn’t seem to promote any middle ground. However, you can no longer ignore it in California.

On January 1st, 2017, California’s pro-lane splitting Bill, AB-51 went live. Technically speaking, the subject of riding a motorcycle between two rows of traffic on Californian roads has always been a gray area.

Neither legal nor illegal, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) used their discretionary powers to determine whether it was being used or abused on a case-by-case basis. In 2015, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and the CHP published their safe strategy documents on the subject. At this point, the chain lube hit the proverbial fan.

One out of California’s 39 million residents wrote to the Office of Administrative Law complaining that the CHP had exceeded its authority by issuing such guidelines. Subsequently, both agencies withdrew the text and web versions.

The AB-51 Bill has now been joined by Section 21658.1 of the California Vehicle Code, which in effect, legalizes lane splitting. It also leaves it in the hands of the CHP to determine safety guidelines.

Is Lane Splitting Legal in my State?

As of September 2017, lane splitting is currently only legal in California, however there are some states where it isn’t explicitly declared as illegal. Many have been asking about the legality in their own states so we scoured the statutes for each and put together this chart below.

Lane Splitting Legality By State

Note that it’s up to the Highway Patrol to determine if your act is unsafe, which means you can still get a ticket, even though your state may not have a law forbidding it.

Definition of Lane Splitting

According to the State of California’s AB-51, , lane splitting is now legally 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.’

California is currently the only state to officially recognize lane splitting, so its other pseudonyms such as filtering, lane sharing, and white lining that have different definitions in the other 49 states.

Lane Filtering, Lane Sharing, and Lane Splitting

Lane filtering refers to a motorcycle picking its way through slow-moving or stationary traffic, such as at a stoplight.

Lane sharing covers two riders in the same lane, either side by side or a staggered formation.

Lane splitting aka white lining refers to a motorcylist weaving between moving traffic at a higher speed, usually staying predominantly on the lane dividing line. (This type of riding is considered bad practice and one that lane splitters would normally condone.)

As a general rule of thumb, lane splitting do’s and don’ts are best governed by a healthy survival instinct. More importantly, if you don’t feel confident enough to do it, then you don’t have to.

Safety Guidelines

Guidelines from the CHP’s Motorcycle Safety Program suggest that a motorcycle should travel no more than 10mph faster than the traffic it is passing. It is also not advisable to do this when traffic starts moving at 30mph or over. The faster you pass, the less time you have to react to an adverse situation.

“Lane splitting keeps riders safer by eliminating their exposure to rear-end collisions, and it helps ease congestion by effectively removing motorcycles from the traffic lanes.”

The lanes that are safest to split are between lanes one and two, which are the furthest left. The lanes furthest to the right see the most movement regarding traffic adjusting for on-ramps and exits, making it a lot more dangerous to lane split. By using the far left lanes, you will be clear of trailers and semis, meaning that you will be able to see over the top of most vehicles, giving you a heads up of traffic flow ahead.

If you see a rider splitting a lane to your right, ease back. Don’t attempt to stay parallel as you could be pushing traffic into each other’s path, as drivers move over to avoid you.

Much like motorcycling in general, lane splitting can be a daunting prospect for the uninitiated. If it doesn’t look like you’ll fit through the gap, don’t attempt to do so. Similarly, if you find two long vehicles running parallel to each other, wait for them to re-position. If they close the gap when you are halfway through, you’re out of options.

Safety Precautions

On the subject of tight spaces, take a look at your bike from the front. Do you have wide bars, fairing, panniers, forwards, or engine bars? The object of this exercise is to give you a better appreciation of physical size.

Now add two feet either side. That’s the minimum that you will need if you take into account vehicle wing mirrors and the lateral movement of your bike from potential buffeting or raised line markings.

The Four R’s

Whenever the subject of lane splitting is up for discussion, the four R’s will come into play. These refer to the following: Be Reasonable, Be Responsible, Be Respectful and Beware Roadways.

Be Reasonable with your speed, as going too fast turns you into a liability to yourself and others.

Be Responsible. You are solely responsible for your safety, so make sure your decisions and actions convey this, as it also affects the people that surrounds you.

Be Respectful to other road users. Safely acknowledge someone who gives you extra room prior to lane splitting. Remember, although you may be legally allowed to split, other road users aren’t legally obliged to make space for you.

Beware of Roadways, for when it is combined with traffic, it can equate to potential danger. You need to be super aware of poor and uneven surfaces, wide vehicles, inattentive drivers and poor weather while riding in heavy traffic. It therefore stands to reason, that it’s important to stay focused at all times in order to respond to any potential dangers. Remember to stay alert, be sensible, and if it feels wrong, ease back.

Do’s and Don’ts of Lane Splitting

  • DON’T make drivers over-react. If you ride too fast, all they’re going to see is something flash-by in their peripheral vision.
  • DO stay in a gear that keeps the revs low. Both of these actions may cause a distracted driver to swerve.
  • DON’T be physically prepared without being mentally prepared for riding between traffic. Yes, your survival instinct needs to be on full alert, but do ride with a positive, mental attitude.
  • DO be aware of splitting in wet conditions. Riding on painted lines reduces grip when it rains.
  • DO watch out for lumps, bumps, and uneven surfaces as they can upset the handling of your bike.
  • DON’T think that the law protects you from riding badly. Bill AB-51/21658.1 makes the physical act of lane splitting legal under set circumstances and CVC 22400 makes it illegal for drivers to block or impede a motorcyclist. These facts however, doesn’t preclude anyone from extending common courtesy to other road users when executing the maneuver, so do be courteous!

From a motorcyclist’s point of view, lane splitting saves time, eases congestion, and keeps them out of harm’s way. According to Rob Dingman, President and CEO of the American Motorcyclist Association, “Lane splitting keeps riders safer by eliminating their exposure to rear-end collisions, and it helps ease congestion by effectively removing motorcycles from the traffic lanes.”

The next time that you decide to lane-split, remember to stay alert, don’t take rash chances, stay within the safe speed limit, and treat other road users with courtesy. Ride safely!

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Comment(21)

  • How to Ride Safely in Heavy Traffic? - Part 1 - Motorcyclist Lifestyle
    January 1, 2018 at 8:56 pm

    […] many states, there are some issues about lane filtering at more than 30km/h. But, in some states, it is allowed to do that. But, make sure you don’t take […]

  • Dustin
    April 4, 2018 at 9:41 am

    It’s ironic that only in California (arguably one of the most over-regulated states) lane splitting and lane filtering is completely legal. This is an activity that is extremely dangerous and should not be allowed – period. Motorcyclist’s free reign to dart in and out of traffic at high speeds adds just another level of risk and danger to driving. There have been countless times over the years when I’ve been in near-miss accidents with motorcycles that come out of nowhere or those who’ve ripped my rear view mirror off (twice) when trying to lane split in the 3′ wide space between traffic, etc. then flip me the bird when I try to get them to stop. And in California if they cause an accident, responsibility is usually put on the car’s driver rather than the free-wheeling motorcycle. It’s legally protected hooliganism.

    • Bob
      June 4, 2018 at 11:44 am

      “This is an activity that is extremely dangerous and should not be allowed – period. Motorcyclist’s free reign to dart in and out of traffic at high speeds adds just another level of risk and danger to driving.”

      – Did you even read anything other than the headline? There are very reasonable guidelines for splitting and it’s been proven numerous times to be safer for *everyone* and help to eliminate congestion when those guidelines are followed.

      “There have been countless times over the years when I’ve been in near-miss accidents with motorcycles that come out of nowhere or those who’ve ripped my rear view mirror off (twice) when trying to lane split in the 3′ wide space between traffic, etc. then flip me the bird when I try to get them to stop…. It’s legally protected hooliganism”

      – Now I get it. You’re just butthurt that some riders have had the gall to retaliate when you nearly kill them either from your inattentiveness or trying to play highway police with your personal vehicle.

      • Ron
        October 15, 2018 at 7:26 am

        He is just a cage driver butt hurt that someone might get “ahead” of him.

    • David
      June 4, 2018 at 12:10 pm

      Wow – that is so wrong in so many ways:
      a) it is not “an activity that is extremely dangerous and should not be allowed” In fact, it is actually safer (if done correctly) The single most common type of collision, at about 40%, is a rear-ender. Lane splitting eliminates this type of collision.
      b) “dart in and out of traffic at high speeds” See above where I said “if done correctly”? A high speed differential is an incorrect method, but studies have shown that when the speed differential between the traffic flow, whether stopped or merely slowed, when the bike is travelling only slightly faster, then because of the removal of rear-end collisions, it actually becomes safer for the bike.
      c) “motorcycles that come out of nowhere” They don’t just appear, they come from somewhere. If you didn’t see them coming, then there can only be two explanations – they either were travelling too fast for conditions (see previous comment about speed differentials), or you weren’t paying attention. Recommendations are that you should be scanning your mirrors every 5 seconds or so. If the bike is travelling at a safe speed and if you are checking your mirrors at the recommended intervals, then you should be able to see them coming.
      d) I am not a lawyer, but I’ve had a cop tell me, in response to my question, that the vehicle code requires you to “drive safely” and in the case of an accident involving lane-splitting, the assumption was that the bike failed to drive safely. I’ve known many cops, including many motor officers (motorcycle cops) and that has always seemed to be the universal attitude – never ran into anyone that thought otherwise.

      • Ronald Johnson
        July 16, 2018 at 6:57 am

        Every video ive watched of lane splitting incidents the rider was not only exceeding the speed of relative vehicles but exceeding the speed limit as well. Often excessively. Yes the GoPro of your ego trip also catches your speedometer. You know the cops can’t catch you. You guys and guys like you are far outside acceptable behavior and ‘having the gall’ to retaliate (two very poor choices of words) doesn’t authorize your assault, harassment, and property damage. Props to the bikers who use splitting considerately.

        • Junaid
          October 15, 2018 at 8:39 pm

          I agree there are those jerks who bring bad name to the bikers, I ride everyday to work around 50 miles on free-way, I see most of the car/drivers are on the phone, texting/fb their concentration is not on the road but in their hand-held, if only they could be considerate and think of motorist, accidents would be avoided. As a motorist, We are scared and want to just get away from guy in the box/car, who might not see us.

    • Badger
      June 4, 2018 at 5:08 pm

      It wouldn’t surprise me if Dustin is one of those drivers who texts while driving, and is thus surprised when something comes near his car because he wasn’t actually paying attention. There are other drivers who actively try to keep riders from passing by squeezing them between their car and the car beside them. That’s been my experience on how mirrors get broken.

    • E-nonymouse
      June 4, 2018 at 11:40 pm

      Actually the intent of it in states that are considering it at least is to prohibit high speed maneuvering; IE: you cannot filter/split at speeds above 25-30mph. In some areas it may be expressly forbidden for safety reasons even if the state permits it.
      An entire community of riders can’t and shouldn’t be held hostage by the irresponsible actions of the few.

    • Nick
      June 9, 2018 at 2:15 pm

      It’s not an “activity that is extremely dangerous,” any more than any other activity. When done correctly and under appropriate circumstances, it’s as safe as anything else on a motorcycle.

      What’s a “..near miss accident(s)…?” And how did a motorcyclist manage to get inside of your vehicle to remove the rear-view mirror?

      There are enforceable rules to lane splitting; just because you don’t like it, doesn’t make it a bad idea. I hear these types of arguments frequently from drivers, who generally are aggravated that they are stuck in traffic, and someone is passing them.

      And to your last point, any person that CAUSES an accident is the at-fault driver/operator. If the “car’s driver” purposely impedes the motorcycle operator, then they are at fault.

      From the CHP…

      “Motorcyclists who lane split are not relieved of the responsibility to obey all existing traffic laws. With respect to possible law enforcement action, keep in mind that it will be up to the discretion of the Law Enforcement Officer to determine if riding behavior while lane splitting is or was safe and prudent. “

      • Shawna
        September 5, 2018 at 6:11 am

        Omg…lol..”how did a motorcyclist manage to get inside your car and rip off your rear view mirror”…must be a magician….

    • Charles Arthur
      June 14, 2018 at 1:28 pm

      What utter nonsense. Watch the video.

  • lauren
    April 7, 2018 at 2:01 pm

    California is not the only state in which there is no traffic law that explicitly prohibits lane splitting, but officials rely on other laws to regularly interpret lane splitting as unlawful. … Lane splitting was legally defined for the first time in California by a bill signed into law in August, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lane_splitting

  • Brett
    June 4, 2018 at 9:03 am

    Any changes to this map since August 2017?

  • John Storer
    June 4, 2018 at 10:46 am

    Lane splitting is an insane idea. Just asking to get hit. Can’t believe anyone with a brain would support it. Like motorcycle riding isn’t dangerous enough already.

    • Kreg
      June 21, 2018 at 6:55 am

      Of all the comments against lane splitting, do any of the authors actually ride a motorcycle? If done correctly, it protects the rider from distracted drivers and the motorcycle from overheating (most people do not know the majority of motorcycles are “air cooled”). I have been rear ended once and almost killed when another driver nearly rear ended me but missed me by inches. If I had been between the front row of cars sharing their lane, I would have been protected. Car drivers should be thanking us for taking an additional car of the road and reducing the traffic they have to endure. As for the idiots who white line irresponsibly, we have a name for them: donorcycles.

  • Paul
    June 4, 2018 at 12:11 pm

    Lane splitting aka white lining refers to a motorcylist weaving between moving traffic at a higher speed, usually staying predominantly on the lane dividing line. (This type of riding is considered bad practice and one that lane splitters would normally condone.)

    The above statement is confusing at best. It should state a negative, like so: Lane splitting aka white lining refers to a motorcyclist weaving between moving traffic at a higher speed, usually staying predominantly on the lane dividing line. (This type of riding is considered bad practice and one that lane splitters would NOT normally condone.)

    An on this topic, there is little else to do when “splitting” lanes other than to ride on the line. Some weaving is to be expected but unless there is a wide gap between lanes the motorcycle will be on the line. Done correctly (not too fast, and when traffic is below 30MPH) this is not unsafe.

  • david
    July 1, 2018 at 3:49 pm

    I wonder how many cyclists who engage in lane splitting or filtering use their turn signals when moving from one lane to another? Anyway, you say that this activity makes the roads safer by allowing the motorcycles to travel 10-15 MPH faster than the other traffic, thus getting out of the way faster. In most of the occasions where I see this, the motorcycles are travelling 20-30 MPH faster. When a cyclist decides to do this “responsibly” it’s because the other traffic is going too slow. Slow moving traffic is one reason that it’s more likely that the cars will switch lanes. When this happens it’s the 25 MPH faster motorcyclist that has far less time to react and more likely to have a collision. If you’re in slow moving or stopped traffic you should be riding on the edge of the lane to lessen the likelihood of being rear ended. In the end, the only reason this is done is because of the entitled macho attitude of the rider. It’s, “I can, so I will” instead of, “There’s no reason to, so I won’t.”

  • ADAM
    July 28, 2018 at 7:15 pm

    First off there is a ton of data on lane-splitting and the safety buffers to motorcyclist by using this technique if used with caution. If you need the studies done about the lower injury rates, the reductions in head trauma, or damage to persons organs its readily available.
    Here is my current irritation with the lack of specificity and oversight with AB-51, and VC 21650(a) ect.
    Is if lane-splitting, or filtering, whatever your preferred term is — is the unrealistic standard on crossing of “double yellows” or splitting on top, or in between Parallel “double/white lines”. For instance, a lot of highways have extremely narrow lanes, such as, in my area of california near pasadena to covina. You simply cannot drive in the carpool lane split traffic (safely) without driving directly on top of the double yellows. Unless you wish to hit a car, or slap your handbars and mirrors on cars. How a CHP motorcycle cop can ticket you is beyond realistic. These two laws cannot coexist with to opposite agendas. And I wish someone would contact Quirk and lackery about amending this law by making an exception for motorcyclist to drive on top, or in between duel Parallel lines.
    as you can tell i am frustrated as i was recently ticketed for this offense, dispite the CHP motorcycle cop was, and has to do the same thing to travel from point A to point B while lane splitting.

  • Breonna
    September 10, 2018 at 5:04 pm

    This law is crap. Motorcyclists in California have major road rage and act as though they own the road and I don’t feel like it’s fair for them to breeze through traffic while commercial drivers have to sit through it. I have almost gotten into a couple wrecks, due to cyclists lane splitting and speeding up when I’m trying to change lanes. I’ve had cyclists flip me off and scare my kid because the road rage that comes from these fools. Please make lane splitting illegal. Save the children.

    • Mawri
      September 17, 2018 at 3:01 pm

      http://www.americanmotorcyclist.com/About-The-AMA/lane-splitting

      Don’t be anti-science because you have a visceral reaction to seeing motorcyclists lane-split. There was a study that most accidents occur in heavy traffic by motorists rear-ending motorcyclists. Another study showed that the occurrences of these accidents lessen once lane-splitting is implemented. (The KEY being when lane-splitting is done responsibly!!!)
      You anti-lanesplitters are equivocating the behavior of a minority of motorcyclists with all motorcyclists. Imagine if I judged the behavior of all motorists by those few that weave between traffic at high speeds without signaling and cutting off most drivers? “Make car driving illegal. Save the children.”

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