Is Lane Splitting Legal in Pennsylvania?

January 2nd, 2019

Lane splitting refers to a motorcyclist riding between two lanes of traffic moving in the same direction. It is a controversial practice with divided opinions on its safety. The only state in which lane splitting is not illegal is California. California did not legalize the practice, per se, but it eliminated the traffic provision that prohibited lane splitting. In Pennsylvania, lane splitting is currently not legal. However, state legislators may have plans to address this topic sometime in the near future. For more information, read on or reach out to a Philadelphia motorcycle accident lawyer knowledgeable about these laws.

What Is Lane Splitting?

If a motorcycle lane splits, it means the bike travels on the dotted line between two lanes of traffic. Lane splitting occurs on roads with at least two lanes of traffic traveling in the same direction, rather than on a single-lane road. The most common circumstance for lane splitting is in traffic when a motorcyclist rides between two lanes of stopped traffic rather than waiting in line. The smaller size of the motorcycle allows it to travel between vehicles.

The “Legalization” of Lane Splitting

In 2016, California legislators decided to eliminate the law banning motorcycle lane splitting. The goal was to alleviate heavy traffic by allowing motorcycles to get out of line and lane split to their destinations. This would lead to fewer vehicles on the roadway overall, and less traffic for everyone. It could also improve motorcyclist safety, as many supporters argue, by helping to prevent rear-end collisions with motorcyclists.

Since the state did not enact a lane splitting law, but merely struck down the rule forbidding it, no specific rules exist for how to lane split in the state, other than to do so safely and prudently. Instead, the Department of Motor Vehicles issued general guidelines for motorcyclists. These guidelines tell riders to watch their speed, drive defensively, and avoid other vehicles’ blind spots. Motorcyclists may receive tickets in California if their versions of lane splitting involve reckless driving or speeding.

The Lane Splitting Debate

Other states have been reluctant to take California’s lead. Part of the problem is a great divide on the subject. Some people avidly support lane splitting, and believe it is safer for motorcyclists and an answer to congested traffic. Others, however, believe it is a dangerous practice that can startle other motorists and cause collisions. This led to many lawmakers introducing lane splitting bills in their states, only to have the bills fail.

California changed its lane splitting laws after a comprehensive study from the University of California Berkeley confirmed its relative safety. The study analyzed almost 1,000 lane splitting accidents and found when surrounding traffic is traveling at 50 miles per hour or less, and when motorcyclists remain no more than 15 miles per hour faster than surrounding traffic, lane splitting is relatively safe.

Researchers concluded that if motorcyclists can control their speeds, they can reduce their chances of getting into a collision. Yet many still argue that lane splitting puts motorcyclists in close proximity with other drivers and that this could cause collisions – especially if the speed of the motorcycle startles nearby drivers and causes them to jerk their wheels. Lack of consensus on the subject has contributed to many states rejecting proposed lane splitting laws.

The Law in Pennsylvania

The lane splitting law in Pennsylvania could change if more information surfaces that shows its potential for saving motorcyclists from serious and fatal injuries. If any research could convince lawmakers that lane splitting would improve motorcyclist safety, they would be more inclined to make a change.

Currently, however, little research exists on lane splitting other than the Berkeley study. With California acting as a test state, however, more information and research may soon become available. Motorcyclists in Pennsylvania may eventually be able to lane split if other states choose to take California’s lead.

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