Lane Splitting: A Motorcycle Riders Right to Self Defense?

For motorcycle riders, lane splitting (the practice of riding between two lanes of traffic going in the same direction) opens up a whole new safety zone, fraught with a whole new set of hazards. A way of life in Europe and Asia splitting lanes is just the way it is, providing welcome relief to congested traffic centers around the world.

Motorcycle Riders Lane Splitting in California

Courtesy of WikipediA

In the U.S. the only state where lane splitting is legal is California, and then only if done in a “safe and prudent” manner. Still, in a recent survey only 53% of drivers realized the practice was legal, indicating a lack of awareness that may contribute to some hostility towards motorcycle riders on their part.


Lane splitting, or lane sharing as it is sometimes called, does seem pretty scary. Some motorists might even say its foolhardy and reckless, zooming past lanes of cars at speeds that seem inappropriate to say the least. The fact is, utilizing the space between cars makes it less likely that you’ll get rear ended, a major cause of motorcycle fatalities, although the possibility of getting side swiped is real, and demands that motorcyclists have a heightened sense of awareness of whats going on around them.

Being between lanes instead of in one gives motorcycle riders just that. Obviously being able to see whats up ahead is a great advantage in defending yourself, but lane spliiters must be able read the road for danger ahead, beside, and behind them. Knowing the telltale signs of a motorist getting ready to abruptly change lanes is a skill to master, as is the recognition of inattentive drivers texting or watching a movie, or just being plain stupid.

Splitting lanes should not be done when traffic is flowing at full speed. Remember, the speed limit applies to motorcycle riders too. In traffic jams, from stop and go traffic to up to about 40 mph on the highway, it is appropriate (in California anyway), if done in a “safe and prudent” manner.

Here are some common sense tips on being “safe and prudent”:

  • Wear your brightly colored reflective safety gear, drive with your lights on and keep your thumb by the horn.
  • Don’t zoom through traffic. Rule of thumb is 5 to 15 mph over the flow of traffic.
  • Focus on the road ahead but don’t stare. Be aware of drivers wanting to change lanes.
  • Know when your in someones blind spot and don’t linger. Pass quickly and get out of the way.
  • Keep at least two fingers on the front brake and be ready to maneuver evasively.
  • When traffic comes to a standstill, go slow and watch for opening car doors.
  • In stop and go traffic, be especially aware of abrupt lane changers.

The lack of a crumple zone makes motorcycle riders the most vulnerable targets on the road. Motorcycle riding is by its nature a dangerous endeavor, and it is up to the skilled motorcyclist to use every trick in the book to stay alive.

Utilizing the space between lanes lessens the probability of getting sandwiched between two cars, but opens up a whole new set of dangers. In a recent study California had about 30% less motorcycle fatalities due to rear end collisions than Texas and Florida, where lane splitting is illegal.

Lane splitting, when done skillfully and prudently, can and should be added to the motorcycle riders arsenal of self defense. If California can get it right, maybe it can once again be the frontrunner of a national trend.

For an in depth discussion about lane splitting, check out the video on our Google+ page.

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