Is Motorcycle Lane Splitting Safe?

Have you ever driven down a road and had a motorcycle come up between the lanes? It’s common in California and in several other countries, but it’s not so common here. It looks really dangerous to a driver, but motorcyclists say that this practice, called lane splitting, can actually save lives.

An article from Clarksville Online talks about the practice. Basically, if the traffic is slowed or stopped, it’s very dangerous for motorcyclists. People get quite distracted during traffic jams and put riders at risk. Also, it is hard to start and stop quickly on a motorcycle.

In fact, around 60% of the motorcycle crashes in the country happen in moderate to heavy traffic. This is from the Hurt Report, a comprehensive motorcycle crash study report that is still the best of its kind despite its age. But if riders are able to split lanes, so the theory goes, then they can get out of the way of dangerous slow-moving traffic and clear up spaces for others on the road.

There are other advantages as well, according to proponents. Riders going between lanes are much easier to see in side mirrors rather than moving in and out of a blind spot. Motorcyclists will also be less fatigued from starting and stopping all the time. Also, they will be at less risk for exhaust exposure and heat-related conditions that can injure a biker caught in a traffic jam with no AC. Finally, the chances of a rear-end collision are greatly reduced. Even at low speeds, a collision with a motorcyclist can cause life-long injury or death.

However, as of this writing, lane splitting is only explicitly legal in one state, California. A few others states have pending legislation on it. Tennessee had a bill in 2015 to allow the practice but it died in the legislature. Studies done in California have suggested that motorcyclists who do practice lane splitting, also known as lane sharing or filtering, are at a much lower risk of trauma.

But if it were to happen, American drivers would have to go through an adjustment period. What may be normal practice in other countries (and California) could be a shock to a driver who doesn’t expect to have motorcycles passing them to the left and right between vehicles. Also, not all motorcyclists approve of the practice because it can seem rather dangerous. And there is the chance of some motorcyclists taking unnecessary risks or showing off between the lanes.

Right now, if you are a motorcyclist and got into an accident and you were lane splitting, it would be difficult to achieve a favorable outcome. Lane splitting is prohibited by Tennessee law. If you believe that this is a safe practice, you will need to continue the fight to get the law changed. Until then, please take care when you’re out riding by following these safety tips:

  • Always wear full protective gear, including leathers and a helmet, to minimize the risk of injury
  • Hydrate yourself well before you get onto the road, and take into account the heat. Carry extra water if necessary.
  • Familiarize yourself with the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Pull over if you feel them coming on and seek help.
  • Take care in traffic jams to avoid rear-end collisions. If you feel sick from exhaust fumes, try to leave the traffic jam at the earliest opportunity and seek fresh air.

Stay safe while riding, and don’t lane split until it’s legal!