Whether lane-splitting should be legal has been a topic of debate in the United States for many motorcycle enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts alike. Many people believe that a motorcyclist riding between lanes in traffic is dangerous and increases the likelihood of an auto accident. In most states, including Florida, lane-splitting is illegal.
But what is lane splitting? Wikipedia’s definition of lane-splitting is “riding a bicycle or motorcycle between lanes or rows of slow-moving or stopped traffic moving in the same direction. It is sometimes called whitelining, or stripe-riding. This allows riders to save time, bypassing traffic congestion, and may also be safer than stopping behind stationary vehicles.”
Similar to lane splitting are two other distinctions of motorcycle driving in traffic – lane filtering and lane sharing.
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Lane Splitting, Lane Filtering, and Lane Sharing
1. Lane splitting (also known as white lining) – occurs when a motorcyclist weaves between moving traffic at a higher speed
2. Lane filtering – occurs when a motorcyclist weaves between slower-moving traffic or traffic that is stationary
3. Lane sharing – occurs when two or more motorcyclists share the same lane riding either side-by-side or staggered
Florida Statute 316.209 (3) states,
(1) All motorcycles are entitled to full use of a lane and no motor vehicle shall be driven in such manner as to deprive any motorcycle of the full use of a lane. This subsection shall not apply to motorcycles operated two abreast in a single lane.
(2) The operator of a motorcycle shall not overtake and pass in the same lane occupied by the vehicle being overtaken.
(3) No person shall operate a motorcycle between lanes of traffic or between adjacent lines or rows of vehicles.
(4) Motorcycles shall not be operated more than two abreast in a single lane.
Even though it is illegal in Florida to lane split, many motorcycle riders routinely drive in such a manner, without consequences. However, if stopped by the police and cited, the traffic citation is for a noncriminal traffic infraction, and can result in a moving violation. The fine amount varies from county to county but usually runs about $100 or more per violation. However, motorcyclists need to be aware that if an accident occurs involving another driver, chances are very good that you will be responsible for any damages.
Lane splitting and lane sharing are similar actions and are often confused with one another. Lane sharing refers to when motorcyclists travel in the same lane, side-by-side, or slightly staggered, with one motorcycle a short distance ahead. Unlike lane splitting, lane sharing is legal in Florida.
A study by the University of California Berkeley found that lane splitting may be safer for motorcyclists during heavy traffic periods. Previous research and several other studies have shown that a motorcycle is more likely to be struck by another vehicle from the rear than any other type of crash. The theory, therefore, is that lane splitting eliminates that possibility of being struck from behind because when a motorcycle is between two cars, they are protected from a vehicle hitting from the rear.
Legal Status of Lane Splitting in the US
For more than a decade, states have been struggling with the decision of whether lane splitting should be legal. While some states have fully adopted the legalization of lane splitting, others are finding it challenging to come to a resolution. Here are just a few examples:
- California – California was one of the first states to embrace lane-splitting even before it was legalized; motorists and motorcyclists respected the practice for years. In 2016, it was declared legal across the state. California is the only state to make lane splitting legal officially.
- Arizona – Lawmakers in Arizona first attempted to legalize lane splitting with Senate Bill 1007, but it failed to pass. At the beginning of 2020, however, House Bill 2285 was introduced that aims to restart talks about legalizing lane splitting.
- Hawaii – Lane splitting is not legal in Hawaii, perhaps because Hawaii’s roads are so narrow that it is almost impossible to pass. However, Hawaii does allow shoulder surfing for motorcyclists on the island when there is traffic congestion.
- Connecticut – Senate Bill 629 was recently introduced in Connecticut, and lawmakers are currently discussing legalizing lane splitting and filtering.
- Utah – In March 2019, Utah legalized lane filtering. Although it’s not as permissive as lane splitting, lane filtering can help motorcyclists avoid being tailgated when on the road.
- Oregon – A proposition to legalize lane splitting was introduced recently and is currently in discussion. If the bill passes, motorcyclists will be allowed to travel between cars on roadways with speed limits of 50 mph or more and traffic moving at 10 mph or slower.
- Washington – Since 2015, Washington has introduced 3 different bills to legalize lane splitting. To date, none have passed.
Little research has been done in the United States on the safety of lane splitting, lane filtering, or lane sharing. The only information available is from comparing motorcycle accidents in states where it’s legal and states where it is illegal. For example, in California, the motorcycle accidents from being rear-ended are 30% lower compared to Florida. In California, lane splitting is legal, and in Florida, it is illegal. Is this a coincidence or does lane splitting actually provide some protection to motorcyclists?
As with all growing areas of personal injury law, Battaglia, Ross, Dicus & McQuaid stays abreast of new developments and changes in the laws, so that we can provide our clients with the most cutting edge legal tactics and ensure they get the compensation they deserve.
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