Is Lane Splitting Safe?

Lane Splitting in California. From Wikipedia

Is Lane Splitting Safe?

We visit our daughter regularly in San Diego. When there I wonder about the safety of “Lane Splitting” in a state were big state government bends over backward to protect us from ourselves. Sometimes this is done at the expense of just plain ol’ common sense. I could give many examples but time and space doesn’t permit.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with lane splitting (definition from Wikipedia) refers to a two-wheeled vehicle moving between lanes of vehicles that are proceeding in the same direction. More narrowly, it refers to passing stopped or slower moving traffic between lanes at a speed greater than surrounding traffic. It is also sometimes called lane sharing, white lining, filtering, or stripe-riding. Alternatively, lane splitting has been used to describe moving through traffic that is in motion while filtering is used to describe moving through traffic that is stopped.

Lane splitting by motorcycles is generally legal in Europe, and in Japan and several other countries, and is illegal in many U.S. states, but is considered lawful in California.

Lane splitting has seemed very dangerous to me. On one occasion, while driving in California, I checked my rearview mirror before changing lanes… nothing there… but just as I started the lane change a bike came zooming by splitting lanes. Where he came from I had no idea. A second sooner for me or a second later for him and we could have collided. A very close call and I’m not even sure the rider was even aware of how close we had come to a colliding.

On my last visit to California, we were in heavy traffic on I-5 with traffic moving very slowly. Lane splitters were everywhere. I thought to myself, “This is an accident waiting to happen.” I noticed a ‘couple’ zoom by us when I had thought this. A mile or two down the highway the couple was on the side of the freeway with a car… exchanging insurance information and both were on their cell phones. This was an obvious accident with no little or no damage. A short time later and several miles down the freeway, the couple passed us again.

I’m glad it was a minor accident but I wonder how many of them aren’t. I know there are two sides to every story and I haven’t heard much of the other side. So help me here. Am I wrong about lane splitting? Let’s hear from all sides.

UPDATE: Watch this about lane splitting. This is good to know…

Ride safe… and be very careful if you do lane split. I hope to see you somewhere on the road.



18 responses to “Is Lane Splitting Safe?

  1. And half of them do it going a bazillion miles an hour!

  2. Hell NO it’s not safe at all….. I live in Los Angeles and everyday a motorcycle (or 2 or 3) goes down because they were splitting lanes. Many time the motorcycles is killed or seriously injured. I think it should be illegal period!

    • My thoughts too. I know there are a lot of places in the world where they do it. There must be some reason… I just can’t see what that would be. Thanks for stopping by… Do you ride?

      • Well hello there!!! Yes, I ride…I have a Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Classic and just bought my 2011 Triumph Tiger 800 (Roadie) from Ebay (scary idea) but I did it and since it’s being transported I’m now waiting to have it delivered from NJ to CA. I’m so excited!!

  3. I’m no fan of splitting, but I can see the benifits of filtering. Here in Australia both are illegal. I sometimes filter, but I’m tired of the aggresive nature of Australian car drivers. We have some of the worst drivers in the world. You probably remember that from your time here.

    • I think you are right.. aggression by cars or bikes ruins it for everyone else. I think when car traffic is moving slow the bikes should adjust accordingly.

      What I remember from driving over there was getting use to yield to the right and staying left when turning. Us yanks keep wanting to drive on the right. I don’t remember traffic being too bad there but that was a long time ago.

  4. There are safe ways to do it and unsafe ways. If done right its better for everyone. Part of the reason its allowed in Cali and the EU is because it clears up a lot of traffic seeing how you’re using more of the road especially at stop lights. Which is needed in places like the UK. It also is safer to filter because if a bike gets hit by a car while stopped it can cause death to the rider or badly injure them. Lane splitting can also be done safely if the speed difference is less than 10mph. It also gives benefits to both the car and bike as both parties are getting to their location faster and again arguably safer.

    Also assuming you don’t ride I don’t think you can have a informed opinion of this topic as you don’t know anything about riding or the real dangers of it.

  5. Also to add to my other comment there are many states that don’t allow lane splitting but allow riding without a helmet. Which is more dangerous?

    • John, You make good points especially about helmets. Since they don’t allow lane splitting in Texas I’m not that familiar with it. What I saw in California were the reckless riders. The point about the 10 mph difference makes a lot of sense to me.

      I ride a Goldwing so it takes a bit of room between cars and what I’ve seen there’s not always room. My views have evolved since I’ve posted this. I do see both sides and what I’ve decided is when drivers or riders make mistakes bad things can happen.

      I probably need to learn a bit more before I would do it… where legal.

      Thanks for your input.

      Ride safe…

  6. When Lane splitting watch out for the other lane splitters. Once when riding near San Fansisco I was splitting the outer lanes of a 3 lane freeway. A motorcycle slitting the inner lane decided he would prefer split the outer lanes. He didn’t have a clue I was there and almost took me out. And I was so worried about one of the cars not seeing me. No matter how you look at it lane splitting has it’s risks. In a safety course I’ve been told the when you ride you have $10 to spend before you ride gets deadly. In my opinion lane splitters only have $5 to spend.

    • Rich, good points thanks for your comment. I’m still split on lane splitting. There are good points and bad… No matter what you do you need to be aware of everything around you when riding and particularly when in traffic. Ride safe…

  7. The main reason lane splitting is dangerous in California is that not many people are experienced at doing it, nor are many very good at doing it.

    I live and ride in the United Kingdom and have ridden in many other countries in Europe, plus in 27 US states. Riders in Europe lane split all the time and I have almost never seen an accident resulting from this. Riders know that it is only safe to lane split at a speed just above the cars they are going past, in order to allow time to react. Car drivers and pedestrians are generally aware that motorcycles lane split. Of course, there are always exceptions and some riders take great risk by riding too fast between the lines of cars, but these cases are rare. Most appreciate the dangers and ride at an appropriate speed.

    In California, the only state that allows lane splitting, there are two factors that make lane splitting especially dangerous. First, in normal traffic, car drivers pay little attention to lane discipline and the passing on either side of another vehicle at speed is (although illegal) commonplace. Lane switching is rife and very often, this is done with little regard to other road users, particularly motorcycles. The result is that car drivers believe it acceptable to lane switch, often with very little notice or signalling. Where this happens at the same time as a biker is lane splitting, collisions are inevitable. In Europe, where the law on this is much more strictly enforced, car drivers generally only overtake on the one correct side and lane discipline is therefore much better. This means that car drivers are much more predictable, with wild lane changing being much less common, and while of course there are exceptions to this, it does make lane splitting much safer.

    Oddly, the second reason lane splitting in Europe is safer than in California is because of the width of the lanes. In California, where the lanes are much wider, there is more room between the lines of cars and therefore the lane splitting bikes travel faster between them. This is the root cause of collisions. Speeds are much too high and this gives little time for a biker to react to cars suddenly switching lanes or another bike joining the space. In Europe, where the lanes are generally much narrower, this forces riders to slow down and therefore it becomes much safer.

    I therefore disagree that lane splitting is dangerous. It is not. It saves a great deal of time for motorcyclists in heavy traffic. What is dangerous is THE WAY people lane split.

    Gary France

    • Thanks Gary, You make really good points. Since I’ve posted this I have learned a lot. I think we all need to be more informed as riders and drivers. It would save lives and injury. Thanks for taking the time to answer.
      Ride safe…

  8. It’s a funny old life really. What’s safe? Should motorcycles be made safer by adding a couple of wheels and a steel roll cage? As with anything there is a balance to be found and for me it’s somewhere between yes and no.

    Here in the UK, most motorcyclist I know would assume a rider not filtering when there was crawling or stationary traffic and a sufficient gap was probably having mechanical problems of some sort. Traffic busting is normal and round my way, I usually see it done with a reasonable level of skill and good judgment. As it happens, my current commute doesn’t really call for it so much these days but I cut my teeth in the big city and the rule of thumb is:
    – Never assume anyone has seen you ever
    – Don’t ever count on people using turn signals.
    – Do assume there are people out there who will go out of their way to get in your way because, well, sour grapes I guess.
    – Always plan well ahead with an escape route (this may mean brakes, acceleration or swerve).
    – If split second timing will be needed, there isn’t enough room for error so leave it.

    Is it safe? No. Neither is my cholesterol level but that sure was a nice pizza.
    Is there a right way to do it? Yes
    Is there any number of wrong ways to do it? Oh yeah.
    Is it worth doing? Well, that’s a decision you can only make when you’re looking at the gap isn’t it.

    • Good point… “What’s safe?” Safe is a very relative concept. Very good points. As John Wayne said, “Life is hard… It’s even harder when you are stupid…” Having said that even the smart ones can find themselves in places they should not be. Riding is an ever learning process. My views have evolved since I originally posted this. I now see lane splitting can be done properly. I think everyone (rider & drivers) needs to be educated about lane splitting.

      Thanks for taking the time for sharing your thoughts. Ride safe.

  9. The biggest reasons that I would like to see lane-splitting allowed in my Province in that I have been rear-ended on my bike while stopped in traffic at a stop light. If I was able to move to the front of the line of traffic, the chance of being rear-ended would be nearly eliminated.

    During summer, if I know that I am going to be stuck in traffic, which is common in Vancouver, I am unlikely to wear the safety gear that I know I should be wearing because the heat can be unbearable. People sitting in their cars and trucks usually have air conditioning to eliminate the heat problem, and are not sitting in direct sunshine wearing a heavy jacket.

    Most motorcycles are not designed to sit at idle with no air flowing over the motor. This situation causes the risk of overheating the engine of the bike, and adds to the heat problems for the rider. I believe that the extreme heat that the rider sometimes suffers from is a safety issue in itself.

    I think if done safely by a skilled rider, there is little added danger to the rider. Motorcycles are dangerous by nature, but riders have already made their choice to ride and accept the risks in riding.

    I think the biggest issue would be in educating the car and truck drivers on the merits and legality of lane splitting if allowed. Studies from Europe that I have read indicate that lane splitting by motorcycles helps to reduce traffic congestion greatly for all highway/roadway users.

Please Share Your Thoughts and Comments Here