If you drive in Washington, D.C. or the greater metropolitan area, chances are good that you have been stuck in a massive traffic jam. During those times, you have probably wished that you could zip through the spaces between the stopped vehicles. If you had a motorcycle, you probably could, through a practice known as lane-splitting — but is it legal?
Lane-splitting is a common practice across the United States. Many Washingtonians have probably been a bit jealous when seeing a motorcyclist weave through traffic. This practice exists in a legal gray area, however — and may increase the chance of an accident.
When a motorcyclist is involved in a crash after engaging in lane-splitting, it may be tempting to blame the cyclist for what happened. You may even think that a wreck was your fault if you were lane-splitting at the time! But a seasoned Washington, D.C. motorcycle accident attorney can often prove that another driver was responsible for the collision — and help you get the compensation that you deserve.
What Is Lane-Splitting?
Lane-splitting is the often controversial practice of a motorcyclist riding between two lanes of traffic, effectively splitting them. It is most often used when there is a traffic jam or when traffic is moving slowly. A motorcyclist can use the space between cars, trucks, and SUVs to get through the traffic — and get to their destination sooner.
Some motorcyclists argue that lane-splitting prevents them from being rear-ended during stop-and-go traffic. Drivers who don’t pay attention during extended traffic jams are more likely to hit a motorcycle than another vehicle, so they claim that lane-splitting is safer than sitting in traffic. Opponents argue that those same drivers would be startled by a motorcyclist whizzing past them in an unexpected place, like besides their car.
Is Lane-Splitting Legal in D.C.?
For bicycles, lane-splitting is explicitly authorized by law. Under Washington D.C.’s Municipal Regulations §18-1201.3:
- A person operating a bicycle may overtake and pass another vehicle only under conditions which permit the movement to be made with safety.
- A person operating a bicycle may overtake and pass other vehicles on the left or right side, staying in the same lane as the overtaken vehicle, or changing to a different lane, or riding off the roadway, as necessary to pass with safety.
- If a lane is partially occupied by vehicles that are stopped, standing, or parked in that lane, a person operating a bicycle may ride in that or in the next adjacent lane used by vehicles proceeding in the same direction.
In other words, bicyclists are permitted to lane split under D.C. law. As long as you can safely overtake and pass other vehicles, you can do so — whether those vehicles are stopped, moving, standing, or parked. Bicyclists are allowed to go to the left or right side, stay in the same lane, change to a different lane, or even go off the roadway in order to pass a vehicle.
By contrast, lane-splitting is not forbidden or authorized under D.C. law for motorcycles. The only state that expressly authorizes lane-splitting in the United States is California. All other states either outlaw it or like D.C., do not mention it in their laws. This gives police officers, judges and even insurance companies a lot of room to interpret the actions of a motorcyclist who chooses to split lanes.
However, D.C. does have rules that govern overtaking and passing vehicles when traveling in the same direction. While this law addresses specific types of passing, such as going to the right when a car is stopped to make a left turn, it still provides useful guidance to anyone who may be engaged in the practice of lane-splitting. For example, drivers may only overtake and pass a vehicle on the right when it is possible to do so safely — and never by driving off the roadway.
The Dangers of Lane-Splitting
Lane-splitting may seem like the best way to get from point A to point B, particularly when there isn’t a law in D.C. that explicitly forbids it. But when you’re riding a motorcycle, you are uniquely vulnerable, with far less protection than drivers and passengers in a car have. That makes it important to carefully consider what can happen when you choose to split lanes.
When you zoom in between stopped cars, you have limited space to maneuver. You also have relatively limited visibility, making it hard to spot a vehicle that may decide to change lanes. Depending on how fast you are going, any impact between a stopped (or slowed down) motor vehicle and your bike can have disastrous consequences.
Lane-splitting motorcyclists often change lanes without warning, putting them at added risk for collisions. When combined with close proximity to motor vehicles, this makes it more likely that a biker may suffer an accident when splitting lanes.
However, some studies have found that lane-splitting isn’t necessarily as dangerous as opponents claim. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the practice of lane-splitting is common in other countries. The NHTSA argues that gathering data on lane-splitting is necessary to determine if permitting it could reduce congestion and increase motorcyclist safety by giving them an escape route.
A 2015 study by the University of California Berkeley found that lane-splitting is “relatively safe” if done in traffic moving at 50 miles per hour or less, and if motorcyclists do not exceed other vehicles’ speed by more than 15 miles per hour. The study also found that lane-splitting motorcyclists were less likely to suffer torso or head injuries or to die in an accident than those who didn’t engage in the practice. Significantly, of the 6,000 collisions studied, 17% of riders had been lane-splitting.
If you are involved in an accident as a motorcyclist, an insurance company may attempt to deny you compensation if you were lane-splitting. After a thorough investigation, a skilled Washington, D.C. motorcycle accident attorney can advocate for you, arguing that you were riding responsibly, using your training and experience to make safe driving decisions. Moreover, your lawyer can argue that the other driver acted negligently or dangerously — and that was the true cause of the collision.
Want to Learn More? Call Us Today.
Motorcyclists face a number of prejudices that can make it difficult for them to recover for their injuries after a crash. This includes the belief that if a biker was lane-splitting, any accident that happens must have been their fault. This is simply not true — and a seasoned Washington, D.C. motorcycle accident attorney can make the case against this type of assumption.
Patrick Malone & Associates was founded on the belief that everyone deserves justice. We advocate for each of our clients, helping them get the compensation that they deserve for their injuries. To learn more or to schedule a free initial consultation with a member of our team, contact us online or call us at 202-742-1500.