What Is Lane Splitting and Is It Legal?

What Is Lane Splitting and Is It Legal?

A car's left side view mirror reflecting a motorcycle attempting to overtake.

Motorcycles are much smaller and more agile than other vehicles on the road. Their narrow profile allows them to fit between two lanes of traffic traveling in the same direction.

This practice is known as lane splitting. Riders do this to pass by traffic so they can move to safer riding conditions instead of being trapped between larger vehicles.

The American Motorcyclist Association says that “one of the most dangerous situations for any on-highway motorcyclist is being caught in congested traffic, where stop-and-go vehicles, distracted and inattentive vehicle operators, and environmental conditions pose an increased risk of physical contact with another vehicle or hazard.”

Lane splitting is a topic of debate for many people. Most states have deemed it an unsafe practice and have made it illegal.

In What States Is Lane Splitting Legal?

Lane splitting is only legal in California, where they believe the frequency of motorcycle accidents is slightly less than when motorcyclists stay in their lanes and move with the traffic.

There are twelve states that have not made lane splitting legal, but they have not made it illegal either. These states are:

  • Arkansas
  • Delaware
  • District of Columbia
  • Idaho
  • Kentucky
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • New Jersey
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Texas
  • West Virginia

Lane Splitting in California

California’s Assembly Bill Number 51 Chapter 141 officially made lane splitting legal in August 2016. Motorcyclists are responsible for passing traffic safely and should still follow some guidelines created by California’s highway patrol.

  • They should not travel more than ten miles per hour faster than the general flow of traffic.
  • Lane splitting is not allowed near on-ramps or exits on the freeway.
  • Lane splitting is strongly discouraged when the traffic flow exceeds thirty miles per hour.
  • The far left lanes are considered safer for lane splitting than the right lanes.
  • Riding on the shoulder is not lane-splitting and is not legal.
  • Avoid lane splitting around large vehicles such as commercial trucks and motorhomes.
  • Pass quickly and do not stay between vehicles.
  • Avoid riding in blind spots.
  • Wear bright colors and use high beams during the day to increase your visibility.

Where Else Is Lane Splitting Legal?

Many cities in Asia and Europe allow lane splitting where it is considered normal and is expected by local drivers.

Drivers believe the practice keeps motorcycles out of stop-and-go traffic, where they are more likely to be involved in a rear-end collision. Lane splitting also allows motorcyclists to get to their destinations faster.

What Is Lane Filtering?

Very similar to lane splitting, lane filtering is when a motorcyclist passes between other vehicles on the white line. The difference is that lane filtering only happens at slower speeds.

Traffic must be stopped or be moving very slowly for a motorcycle to be able to filter through. Motorcyclists typically use lane filtering at intersections where they move safely to the traffic light to avoid being surrounded by other vehicles.

Motorcycles are also much more difficult to operate in stop-and-go or crawling conditions because it is more challenging to maintain balance while barely moving.

Is Lane Filtering Legal?

Unlike lane splitting, lane filtering is legal in three states. Under certain conditions, lane filtering is permitted in the following:

  • Arizona
  • Montana
  • Utah

The motorcyclist must pass the other vehicles slowly and safely.


Arizona is a popular state for motorcycle enthusiasts to visit. The unobstructed panoramic views of the natural beauty of the Grand Canyon provide a fascinating experience for motorcyclists.

Lane filtering has recently become legal according to Arizona’s Senate Bill 1273 in 2022 with a few conditions.

  • Traffic traveling in the same direction as the motorcycle must be stopped.
  • Passing the stopped vehicles must be possible to achieve safety.
  • The road must have at least two adjacent lanes traveling in the same direction.
  • The speed limit on the road must not exceed forty-five miles per hour.
  • The motorcycle must not exceed fifteen miles per hour while passing the stopped vehicles.

This bill was passed in an attempt to decrease traffic accidents involving motorcycles at intersections by giving riders an escape route through traffic to avoid rear-end collisions.


Montana is another breathtakingly beautiful state with gorgeous mountain roads. Lane filtering became legal in 2021 for motorcyclists under the following circumstances:

  • Road and traffic conditions must be considered safe.
  • The maximum speed for the motorcycle while lane filtering is twenty miles per hour.
  • Traffic must not be flowing at speeds greater than ten miles per hour.
  • The travel lanes must be wide enough to accommodate the motorcycle and other vehicles safely.


Utah passed a lane filtering law in 2019 to allow motorcyclists to pass through stopped traffic. This law also comes with conditions:

  • The motorcycle must not travel at speeds faster than fifteen miles per hour.
  • The road must have at least two lanes of traffic traveling in the same direction.
  • The maximum speed limit for the road must not exceed forty-five miles per hour.
  • All other traffic must be stopped.
  • Motorcycles must not use bike lanes or the shoulder to pass other vehicles; only marked travel lanes.

What Is Shoulder Surfing?

Shoulder surfing is when motorcycles pass traffic on the shoulder instead of between lanes.

Hawaii is a popular tourist destination, and motorcycles provide riders to experience the island in a much more immersive way. Natural beauty and ideal temperatures create unique riding experiences, and motorcycles are also a practical way to explore the state.

Hawaii’s roads are much narrower than those found in the Continental United States. Lane splitting or filtering would be very difficult and dangerous on their streets, so shoulder surfing became a legal alternative in 2018.

Motorcycles can pass stopped traffic on the shoulder in approved areas as long as the road has at least two lanes traveling in the same direction and the shoulder is wide enough for the motorcycle to use safely.

What Happens In the States Where Lane Splitting Is Not Regulated?

Although lane splitting is not illegal in twelve states, it is still not legal either, and you could wind up with a fine for failing to maintain your lane, reckless driving, or an improper lane chan

When motorcycles are not explicitly addressed in the law, they are still considered motor vehicles and must follow the rules of the road given to every type of vehicle.

Some situations may warrant an exception, such as clearly avoiding an accident or an unnecessarily dangerous condition. Good judgment must always be used for making the safest decisions, but the police officer and, subsequently, the court have the final authority.

Why Are People Against Lane Splitting?

Motorists in the United States of America are not accustomed to having motorcycles pass by them so closely. Many drivers become startled by the close proximity and are frightened that the bike might hit their mirror or the side of their vehicle.

There is also a strong possibility that the driver of the car will swerve within the lane to avoid something in the road, a pothole, for example, and collide with the motorcyclist without realizing they were sharing the lane.

There are also many drivers who become frustrated because they feel like the motorcycle is getting ahead like someone cutting the line or jumping the queue.

What Happens When There Is an Accident Involving Lane Splitting?

In states where lane splitting is illegal, police will issue fines for violations of the law. When lane splitting involves an accident, the motorcyclist is deemed responsible for the collision, even if the car moved into the motorcycle.

This determination is based on the fact that the motorcyclist should not have been riding between lanes of traffic in the first place and therefore is at fault for any accidents.

In states where lane splitting is not legal or illegal, the police officer responding to the scene of the accident may determine who was at fault for causing the collision in their report.

Insurance companies will also use the lack of regulation or vaguely worded laws to sway the burden of responsibility away from their client for their benefit.

What Is Missouri’s Pure Comparative Law?

Lane splitting is not specifically legal or illegal in Missouri. The law does not address motorcyclists traveling between lanes of traffic. Therefore, the police officer must determine whether the act was the fault of the driver, the rider, or some other cause.

According to Missouri’s Pure Comparative Fault Rule, one party may not be fully responsible for the accident. The determined degree of fault will affect the amount of compensation the injured party can receive.

For example, if someone is found to be 30% at fault for the accident, they will still receive 70% of the compensation award.

Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer if You Are Involved in an Accident Involving Lane Splitting

The experienced team of personal injury lawyers at Goldblatt + Singer knows that the law can sometimes be left to interpretation. Our attorneys know how to keep insurance companies from making unfair decisions about your claims.

We know the law, and we know how to protect our clients. Contact us at (314) 231-4100 for a free consultation about your accident.


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