What Is Lane Splitting? A Comprehensive Guide

Sarah Edwards


Reviewed By Adam Ramirez, J.D.


Read in 4 mins

Have you ever been driving on a freeway when a motorcycle zooms between your car and the vehicle in the next lane? If so, then you have witnessed something called lane splitting. With so many fatal motorcycle accidents every year, you might wonder why states allow this behavior.

In reality, most states prohibit lane splitting. Below, you can learn more about lane splitting, including what it is and the risks associated with this common practice. You’ll also learn the answer to the question, “In which states is lane splitting legal?”

What Is Lane Splitting?

Lane splitting is when motorcycles navigate between lanes of vehicles moving in the same direction. It allows motorcycles to progress through traffic more efficiently by using the space between lanes. While lane splitting has become quite common, it’s illegal in most jurisdictions.

Lane Filtering vs. Lane Splitting

Lane splitting and lane filtering are two terms often used interchangeably, but they refer to slightly different practices. Here are the key attributes of lane splitting:

  • A rider travels between two lanes of traffic moving in the same direction
  • Riders typically do this during busy traffic hours
  • Some states allow it, but most prohibit the behavior

While it is similar to lane splitting, lane filtering has some key differences:

  • The vehicles are either stopped in traffic or moving very slowly
  • Motorcyclists typically use this strategy to move to the front of the line at intersections
  • They may also filter through stoppages on major highways and interstates

Generally speaking, lane filtering may be less likely to cause motorcycle accidents because the rider is passing between stopped or slow-moving cars. However, it’s important to follow local laws and practice safe operating habits.

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Can Motorcycles Split Lanes?

Yes, motorcycles can legally split lanes, but only in one state: California. The state’s laws on lane splitting are pretty broad, too. Riders can travel between vehicles moving in the same direction at low or even high speeds.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has issued some additional guidelines for motorcyclists. These provisions are meant to help decrease the risk of vehicle accidents. The recommendations are as follows:

  • Riders should not travel over 10 miles per hour faster than surrounding traffic
  • Splitting is discouraged at speeds greater than 30 miles per hour
  • Riders should not split lanes near exits and on-ramps

Again, these are recommendations only, which means that riders can legally travel faster than suggested while splitting lanes in California. Naturally, this behavior can be incredibly dangerous.

Where Is Lane Splitting Legal?

Currently, California allows lane splitting, and five other states — Utah, Colorado, Arizona, Hawaii, and Montana — allow lane filtering. Each of these states has its own rules about filtering, but generally, adjacent traffic must be stopped or moving very slowly (usually under 10 miles per hour).

If you live in one of these states, it’s important to brush up on the specific laws in your jurisdiction. Otherwise, you may run the risk of getting a ticket, or worse — getting injured.

Risks Associated With Lane Splitting

There are many dangers associated with splitting lanes, including:

Increased Risk of Personal Injury

The most obvious danger of splitting lanes is personal injury. You could seriously harm yourself or others by splitting lanes. That’s likely why most states haven’t legalized splitting.

Typically, riders involved in a crash suffer the greatest injuries, especially if they aren’t wearing a helmet or other safety equipment. However, motorcyclists can also cause serious harm to occupants of passenger vehicles, particularly if the rider is traveling at high speeds.

Limited Space

The narrow space between lanes leaves little room for error, making it challenging for motorcyclists to react to sudden changes in traffic or road conditions. If you decide to attempt splitting, make sure you have enough distance and space to adjust if a vehicle merges or changes lanes.

Reduced Visibility

Due to their size, motorcycles are already difficult to see, especially if riders are wearing dark clothing. When a rider moves in between lanes of traffic, they may position themselves in other drivers’ blind spots, making them even harder to spot.

If you operate a motorcycle and decide to engage in splitting or filtering, be mindful that other drivers may not be able to see you. Try to stay in an area where you are visible to the driver. Typically, if you can see the driver’s face in their side mirrors, they should also be able to see you.

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Have You Been Injured in a Motorcycle Crash?

If you’ve been hurt by a motorcyclist engaged in unlawful lane splitting or have suffered injuries while legally filtering through traffic, it’s important to seek legal representation right away. ConsumerShield can connect you with an experienced lawyer in your area who will fight for justice on your behalf. A lawyer can assist with everything from explaining the lawsuit settlement process to negotiating with insurance companies.

To get started, simply complete the contact form on our website.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Lane splitting occurs when a motorcyclist passes between two lanes of vehicles moving in the same direction. This process allows the rider to efficiently move through traffic by using the space between lanes.

  • In most states, it is illegal for motorcycles to drive between cars. However, California allows lane splitting, and four other states — Utah, Colorado, Arizona, Hawaii, and Montana — allow lane filtering. During filtering, riders can pass between two lanes of vehicles only if they are stopped or traveling very slowly.

  • Some states have legalized lane splitting/filtering because it allows motorcyclists to travel more efficiently during times of heavy congestion. However, most states do not allow this practice and will actually issue tickets to violators.

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