Motorcycling News

Is Lane Sharing Safe?

Written by  Brandi Ivy July 3, 2021

According to a 2012 study, most motorcycle riders regularly practice lane sharing on freeways and multi-lane roadways. Very few riders report being cited by law enforcement for this practice. Still, there is much confusion over its legality and safety. While many discourage lane sharing, there is evidence that it actually improves rider safety, and there is a growing push to legalize it in more states.

Lane Sharing vs. Lane Splitting and Filtering

 

Lane sharing is often confused with lane splitting and filtering. The fact that many state laws lump these practices together only adds to the confusion. However, in many states lane sharing and filtering is legal while lane splitting is not, so it is important to understand the distinction.

 

  • Lane sharing is the practice of two motorcycles riding side by side in the same lane. 
  • Lane filtering is the practice of moving past a slower or stopped vehicle in the unused portion of the same lane as the other vehicle. 
  • Lane splitting is the practice of moving past a slower or stopped vehicle using the space between lanes. This is also known as “white lining.”

The Legality of Sharing Lanes

Lane splitting is only explicitly legal in California. However, Texas, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, Missouri, Oregon, and Washington all have pending bills to legalize the practice. Many states do not have a law that directly addresses the practice one way or the other. 

Effective October 2021, Montana will be joining California and Utah as the only states to have laws permitting lane filtering. In most cases, it is only legal when cars are stopped or moving at very slow speeds, such as in stop-and-go traffic. 

The legalities of lane sharing are less clear. Like lane splitting, many states do not have a specific law regarding the practice. For instance, the motorcycle driver manuals of Florida and Wisconsin state that it is “usually prohibited” and discourage the practice, but do not explicitly state that it is illegal in all cases. Utah, Ohio, and Pennsylvania have laws legalizing lane sharing, although Pennsylvania law specifically prohibits lane filtering. 

Is Lane Sharing Safe?

Although many caution against the practice, the evidence seems to show that allowing lane splitting, filtering and sharing can improve the safety of motorcyclists. A 2011 study compared motorcycle crash statistics in California to those of other states and found that it had significantly fewer accidents in which a motorcycle was rear-ended. It goes on to point out that according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), rear-end impacts are the most common dynamic in traffic collisions for all vehicle types, and even a low-speed impact can have severe consequences for a motorcycle rider.

More and more road safety experts are promoting lane sharing, as well as splitting and filtering, as practices that can improve road safety for all. Stop-and-go traffic is especially dangerous for motorcycles, and allowing them to maneuver around stopped vehicles reduces the chance of collision. Despite concerns, most riders engaging in this do not contact other vehicles, and if they do, it is generally a minor scrape or brushing a mirror. Overall, these practices are only involved in a small percentage of injury-inducing motorcycle collisions in the United States, and in other industrialized countries that have laws allowing them. 

Lane sharing can improve safety for riders in other ways. For instance, they can reduce the impact on a single bike on rear-end collisions, so that there is less damage to both bikes and riders. In addition, riding side by side can make motorcycles more visible. This is especially important because most motorcycle collisions are caused by car drivers failing to see a motorcycle. 

Lane Sharing and Motorcycle Accidents

Lane sharing has the potential to reduce rather than increases a rider’s chance of being involved in an accident. However, this only applies if practiced in a safe manner. Lane sharing, filtering, and splitting are safest when riding under 10 mph, and become significantly more dangerous at speeds over 30 mph. Also, they should all be avoided in hazardous traffic, road, or weather conditions. Lane sharing is also unsafe if more than two motorcycles ride abreast, or if a motorcycle is sharing a lane with another type of vehicle.

It is important to be familiar with your state’s laws regarding lane sharing. If you are hit by a car while violating these laws, it may reduce the driver’s liability, which could, in turn, reduce the compensation that you are entitled to. If you are found to have been lane sharing in an illegal or reckless manner at the time of the accident, you may even be considered negligent. In fact, if it can be shown that the collision was caused by improper lane sharing rather than the driver’s mistake, the driver may be able to avoid liability entirely.

The Future of Lane Sharing 

Currently, riders have little option but to wait for the law to catch up to what is known about the safety benefits of sharing lanes. Fortunately, you are unlikely to be pulled over for lane sharing in the meantime. If you are in a state that has a bill in process, you could get involved in an advocacy organization such as Lane Share Oregon. If your state does not have such a bill, it may be worth contacting your state legislature to suggest that they create one for the safety of everyone on the road.