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Where Lane Splitting is Legal and Why

Imagine you’re stuck in traffic. You’re idling in your car, windows rolled down, daydreaming of the dinner you’re going to eat when you get home. Every once in a while, you accelerate forward a few feet and come to another disappointing stop. What’s the hold-up? You wish traffic would start moving again—your stomach is starting to rumble.

Suddenly, a motorcycle zooms past you. Not only is it moving when everyone else is stopped, but you notice that it’s actually riding right on the dashed white line separating the two lanes of traffic on this side of the median. The motorcycle speeds out of sight, weaving between the two lanes.

If you were anywhere other than California in this scenario, the motorcyclist would have been riding illegally, and you surely would have had to make room for the police car speeding after him with its lights on and sirens blaring. But in California, lane splitting—the term for a motorcycle riding between two lanes of traffic instead of within a lane itself—is legal. Why?

The Case for Lane Splitting

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Although illegal in most of the United States, lane splitting is popular and even expected practice in other countries, particularly in Europe and Asia. In Europe, only Germany restricts lane splitting to situations when traffic is at a stand-still; everywhere else, you are allowed to split lanes even at top speeds.

Why do so many other countries legalize lane splitting? According to the Hurt Report, known as “the most comprehensive motorcycle crash causation study to date” by the American Motorcyclist Association, “Moderate or heavy traffic was the situation at 59.2 percent of the accidents” studied in the report. It’s been found that riding between lanes is actually safer for motorcyclists than riding in front of or behind vehicles that are so frequently starting and stopping.

Not only is lane splitting good for motorcyclist safety, but it’s also good for the environment, according to a 2012 study by Transport and Mobility Leuven, a Belgian research firm. Although not specifically researching the effects of lane splitting, the study measured the effects of replacing 10 percent of cars with motorcycles. The study showed that carbon emissions fell by 6 percent. The study also showed that time stuck in traffic fell by 63 percent—for everyone, not just motorcyclists.

Lane splitting at low speeds, also known as traffic filtering, is what secures these benefits for everyone. The concept is simple: motorcycles pass between other vehicles to filter to the front of the group. This reduces motorcycle crashes since motorcycles don’t have to engage in the stop-and-go traffic pattern that is so dangerous to their safety. A 2015 report from the University of California Berkeley stated that “motorcyclists who split lanes in heavy traffic are significantly less likely to be struck from behind by other motorcyclists, are less likely to suffer head or torso injuries, and are less likely to sustain fatal injuries in a crash,” according to the American Motorcyclist Association.

Lane Splitting: Illegal in Indiana

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Although popular in other countries, lane splitting remains illegal in most of the United States, including Indiana. Even though more recent studies have shown the possible advantages of legalizing lane splitting, there are still disadvantages to consider.

Most of the benefits of lane splitting occur when traffic is heavy or at a complete stand-still. Motorcyclists can weave through stopped cars much more easily than they can weave through and anticipate the movements of even slow-moving cars. However, the speed of the motorcyclist can affect his or her safety as well. The Berkeley study found that 69 percent of motorcyclists exceeded traffic speed by 15 miles per hour or less when lane splitting. 14 percent exceeded traffic speed by 25 miles per hour or greater, and 3 percent exceeded traffic speed by 40 miles per hour or greater. “Lane-splitting in such a manner is likely to increase the risk of being involved in a traffic collision,” the study concluded.

Even if lane splitting were made legal in Indiana, it would likely have tight regulations on it. In California, the bill that made lane splitting officially legal also allowed the California Highway Patrol to “develop lane splitting educational safety guidelines in consultation with other state traffic safety agencies and at least one organization focused on motorcycle safety.” Such guidelines would likely include limits on the speeds of motorcyclists who split lanes or limits on the speed of surrounding traffic for when it is appropriate for motorcyclists to lane split (e.g., motorcyclists can only go 10 miles faster than surrounding traffic when lane splitting and can only lane split when traffic is going 30 miles per hour or slower).

Help from an Indiana Motorcycle Accident Attorney

For now, lane splitting is illegal in Indiana, which means that if you suffered injuries in an accident because someone was lane splitting, you may be entitled to compensation. Similarly, if you are a motorcyclist and you are hit by another vehicle while staying in your lane in traffic, Hensley Legal Group can help. Call or contact us online today for a free consultation.