Motorcycle Lane Splitting in WA - Crazy or Good Idea?

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Posted on Feb 03, 2015

The Washington Legislature is addressing a new proposed law that would allow motorcycles to split lanes in heavy traffic.  The goal is to reduce traffic congestion and keep motorcycles moving so they are less likely to be rear-ended.  

Would it really accomplish this goal?

Or would it cause more harm than good?

I have ridden motorcycles on Washington roads for years.  I also lived in Los Angeles, CA for a year and rode a motorcycle there. I did split lanes on occasion as California is the only state where it is currently legal for motorcycle riders to split lanes. Scary and exhilarating come to mind!

In my experience the answers to my questions are all yes.  Traffic congestion on the freeway can be eased and motorcycles will be rear-ended less. However, cars change lanes in heavy traffic, often suddenly without much warning or using a turn signal. Splitting lanes on a motorcycle can be very dangerous.  It's important for the motorcycle rider to only ride a little faster than the traffic being passed so the rider has time to stop.

Additionally, drivers in cars often swerve to prevent motorcycles from splitting lanes or impede a motorcycles ability to split lanes. This can be the most dangerous situation where collisions are common.

The Washington law would have a few key components:

  • Lane splitting would only be allowed when traffic is moving under 25 mph.
  • Motorcycles could only go a maximum of 35 mph, but with a limit to no more than 10 mph over the traffic flow speed limit.
  • Cars that intentionally impede a motorcycle that is attempting to pass by lane splitting would get a ticket.

The fear is that allowing lane splitting will cause more motorcycle v. car accidents which result in serious injury and worse traffic due to the increased collisions. But as rush hour on the freeways become more and more congested and commute times increase year after year, easing traffic congestion by any means becomes more likely.

As an attorney who handles motorcycle accident cases and a person who loves to ride, I'm conflicted. The lawyer in me says it's a bad idea, it's hard to be safe now let alone while lane splitting. The rider in me says definitely yes, let's do it. Riding in heavy traffic on a motorcycle is pure misery!

If the lane splitting law does pass, then what?

Get a GoPro!!

Every motorcycle rider should be shooting video when lane splitting just in case.

Every collision occurring while lane splitting will likely involve a dispute over who's at fault. You can bet insurance companies will blame the motorcycle or try to split fault in every accident. Motorcycle riders will need proof of what happened, which is hard to get when you're serious injured lying on the road and can't go around searching for witnesses.

Bike mounted video cameras will be required equipment in my opinion if you want to protect yourself and your family.


Max Meyers
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Max is a Kirkland personal injury attorney handling cases in Seattle, King County & surrounding in WA State.