Lane splitting, or lane filtering, is the act of driving a motorcycle between two lanes of traffic traveling in the same direction. Many motorcyclists believe in lane splitting for faster and safer travel. It remains illegal, however, in all states except California. Lane splitting is a highly debated topic in and out of the motorcycle community. This has led to delays in potential lane splitting legalization in other states. If a motorcyclist in Pennsylvania drives on the line between lanes, he or she is breaking the law.
Pennsylvania’s Lane Splitting Law
Pennsylvania currently has around 850,000 licensed motorcyclists. With so many taking advantage of what Pennsylvania’s roads have to offer, the state Department of Transportation’s first priority is safety. The PennDOT’s motorcycle safety campaign, Live Free Ride Alive encourages motorcyclists to obtain proper licensure, never drink and ride, and use protective riding gear. It also reminds motorcyclists of the illegal nature of lane splitting within the state.
PennDOT’s Motorcycle Operator Manual tells motorcyclists to avoid weaving between lanes, and to ride in the part of the lane where riders will be the most visible to other drivers. It states that motorcycles need full lanes to operate safely, and thus the state’s law prohibits lane sharing in most circumstances. The manual says riding between rows of stopped or moving vehicles in the same lane could leave motorcyclists vulnerable to cars turning suddenly, doors opening, or drivers’ hands coming out of windows.
Two motorcyclists may share a lane side by side in Pennsylvania, but a motor vehicle and a motorcycle cannot share a lane. Riding on the line between two lanes of traffic is an infraction in the state, and can lead to a traffic citation and ticket. If the motorcyclist gets into an accident while unlawfully lane splitting, he or she may also be liable for damages. It is every motorcyclist’s responsibility to obey the law and ride safely.
California’s “Legalization” of Lane Splitting
In 2016, California became the first state to decriminalize lane splitting. California lawmakers did not create a law that made lane splitting legal. Rather, it removed the section of the motorcycle law that made it illegal. Thus, the state’s stance on lane splitting is that it neither allows nor prohibits the practice. The California Department of Motor Vehicles posted general guidelines for safe lane splitting, but soon took them down after stating that a petitioner complained about the lack of formal rule-making to create the guidelines.
A few general safety tips still remain, pushing motorcyclists to watch their speeds, assume other drivers do not see them, and avoid riding in blind spots while lane splitting. Before the DMV took the guidelines down, they told motorcyclists to only lane split on highways with two or more lanes of traffic traveling in the same direction, and not to drive more than 15 miles per hour faster than surrounding vehicles. Other guidelines included avoiding lane splitting next to large vehicles, staying visible, and considering the total environment (including weather and traffic) before lane splitting.
People who support lane splitting advocate that it can reduce traffic by getting motorcyclists off the roads faster. They also say motorcyclists could be at lesser risk of getting into serious rear-end collisions if they can maneuver between the vehicles instead. Those against lane splitting believe it will cause more accidents, by startling other drivers and putting motorcyclists in blind spots.
In California, a lane-splitting study from the University of California Berkeley put the debate to the rest by concluding that the practice was relatively safe, if the surrounding traffic was 50 mph or less, and if the motorcyclists stayed no more than 15 mph faster. It remains unclear whether Pennsylvania will follow California’s lead to permit lane splitting in the future.