Thoughts on Lane Splitting…All In? Or Maybe Not.


You may refer to it as “lane splitting” or “lane sharing”. Perhaps even “filtering.” In any case we’re all talking about the same thing – moving between lanes of four wheelers on our bikes and scooters – hopefully in the same direction.  It’s not exactly a common practice in the USA as it’s  legal only in the State of California (Which, of course, doesn’t mean we haven’t seen it elsewhere. Booya!) It is, however, legal and widely practiced in Europe, Japan, and much of the rest of the world. Thought we’d spend a few moments here chatting about the rationale for, and against the practice.

The leading argument for lane splitting centers around the concept of reducing traffic congestion by allowing use efficient use of that empty space between lanes of traffic. In particular by those vehicles that can readily fit in the space i.e bicycles and motorcycles. As a corollary, it offers reduced travel times for commuters willing to utilize those smaller, lighter, and more fuel efficient modes of transportation. Ponder this for a moment. BMW recently introduced a pair of 650cc Maxi Scooters to the world and pitched them as one of many solutions to urban traffic congestion. How’s that going to work in places (like most of the US) where it’s not possible to filter ahead through rush hour congestion. Doesn’t that just leave bikes and scooters as yet another vehicle mindlessly waiting in line, albeit colder and wetter than the folks in the Toyota Sequoia ahead and the Ford Focus behind? There is also some body of data which may suggest that lane splitting reduces the incidence of rear end collisions for bikers.

628x471 lane split 3The “against” arguments tend to center on safety issues.  And it isn’t just the issue of “mad” bikers whistling through traffic, between lanes, at majorly extra-legal speeds. We all know that happens anyway – laws or not. It’s more about the low speed stuff. Bikes filtering through stationary traffic at 10 or 15  MPH and being whacked by a suddenly opened door or mowed down by an unexpected, and un-signaled, lane change or turn. There’s another issue too. Confinement in one’s “cage” in stopped traffic tends to be a blood pressure raiser. Agitated drivers, seeing others “succeed” at moving when they cannot can become belligerent. Sometimes the excitement escalates well beyond raised middle fingers and the next thing you know, someone’s laying on the ground. Sad to say, but true. One handy way to avoid such confrontations, safety advocates say, is to avoid laws which allow preferential treatment for a single class of vehicles.  Ergo: no lane splitting for motorcyclists.

What do you think of lane splitting? Like it or not, we’d be interested in hearing your well considered opinion.

4 thoughts on “Thoughts on Lane Splitting…All In? Or Maybe Not.

  1. As you stated above, most of the world does it successfully except for 49 US states. On the east coast we don’t have any real opportunity to try it, but I rode in South America for a couple of weeks and in some cities it seemed to be more of a free-for-all, but it actually seemed to work pretty well. I have seen the dangers of lane splitting postulated a number of times but I have never seen any actual data on it.

  2. I’ve been in Europe where I find motorists and motorcyclists to be almost insane. We think we drive dangerously or fast in the U.S.? Not a chance compared to the rest of the world. But they all seem to get along and make it work. It’s also a completely different way of living than in the U.S. because we’re a commuting country and most of Europe isn’t. I’ve also been in California a lot in my life and I never saw any mishaps occur as a result of lane-splitting, but after watching folks do it, I didn’t have any real inclination to take part, except where you can move to the head of the line at a stop light and then take off ahead of all the rest of traffic. That part of lane splitting seems to make a ton of sense. In Europe they do that and it seemed acceptable and relatively safe. Doing the stopped-traffic version of lane-splitting I can get behind. Doing it while the traffic is moving I don’t think is a good idea.

  3. It’s hard enough out there with ‘cage’ drivers on their cell phones or texting and still treating motorcyclists as invisible. Do we REALLY need to exacerbate the situation by threading a bike in between cars? I keep as much distance as I can from other vehicles on the road – I could not even imagine making a habit of slipping between them without a proper lane width to work with.

  4. As you already mentioned, the asshats that whip between cars at double or triple the speeds are a serious problem for both cars and other riders. Aside from that, the biggest issue seems to be folks in cars not paying attention since they are entitled to use their phones, laptops, makup, and feeding, as well as those that get annoyed when they think someone else is ‘winning’ because they can move along. Our entltled drivers have a serious lack of respect for others. Unfortuatly I learned to drive in Germany many moons ago and learned how to move swiftly without being a danger to myself or others. I say unfortunatly because now living in the Northeast, I see daily that far to many of our drivers have no conception of civll driving at any speed :-> So, bottom line? As long as we tollerate rude driving habits it’s probalby a bad idea. We are not mature enough to allow it.

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