Lane splitting is a hot-button issue when it comes to discussions about traffic in many states. Currently, lane splitting is only allowed in California and is illegal in Massachusetts.
Here’s a look at this motorcycle phenomenon, along with tips for the safe operation of a motorcycle. Motorcycling can be a great mode of transportation and a fun hobby, but it must be done safely and in accordance with the laws of the state.
What Is Lane Splitting?
Lane splitting is riding between two lanes of traffic moving in the same direction. Usually, this is done by a motorcycle, but it could also be done by a bicycle. Instead of riding in one lane, the motorcyclist rides on the white or yellow line dividing two lanes of traffic.
Why do motorcyclists do this? Mostly, they split lanes to avoid slow-moving traffic. Rather than having to wait behind a long line of cars, especially if traffic is crawling along, they can move to the front.
It’s also easier for motorcyclists to ride this way. Stopping and starting in traffic is much more work for a motorcyclist than for the driver of a car. It’s preferable for them to keep moving so they don’t have to throttle down, stop, put their feet down, and start moving all over again.
Is Splitting Lanes Legal in MA?
As easy as splitting lanes may be for motorcycle enthusiasts, it is definitely not legal on the roadways of Massachusetts. The state forbids lane splitting in Part 1, Title XIV, Chapter 89, Section 4A of its General Laws, saying that vehicle operators must ride entirely in a single lane on any road with two or more lanes. Drivers cannot deviate from their lanes until they check to make sure it is safe to do so.
In Massachusetts, motorcyclists may not use the same lane to pass other vehicles, nor may they split lanes. They must pass in a single file. The only time they can share a lane with another motor vehicle is when they ride next to another motorcycle.
From time to time, Massachusetts has reviewed legislation that would allow motorcycles to split lanes, but it has never been approved. This is the same in all states but California.
One reason lane splitting is allowed in California is that the road infrastructure there better supports it. Highways are wider, with more lanes. It would be practically impossible to accommodate lane splitting on many of the winding roads of Massachusetts, which originated as horse, cow, and footpaths in the 17th century.
Is Lane Splitting Dangerous?
The narrow roads of the Bay State and many other US states make motorcycle lane splitting dangerous—for the cyclist and for other vehicles on the road. Although there are studies that say lane splitting is safe, these studies only looked at splitting lanes under ideal conditions, with traffic moving 50 miles per hour or less and motorcycles no more than 15 miles per hour faster than other vehicles. In reality, these conditions are hard to replicate, and it’s difficult for motorcyclists to judge how fast other traffic is moving.
When lane splitting is not performed under perfect conditions, it has the potential to cause car damage and accidents, including fatal ones. Motorcycles, with their open vehicles, are vulnerable to being side-swiped by cars and trucks that don’t see them coming up alongside them until it’s too late. Some drivers are also startled by the sudden sound and sight of a motorcycle, which could cause an accident.
If you get caught lane splitting by law enforcement, you will be ticketed and fined. That doesn’t sound so harsh, but if you are cited repeatedly as a habitual lane splitter, you could face much stiffer consequences. Too many surchargeable events (similar to points) in too short of a time period can result in your license being suspended.
Reinstating a driver’s license in Massachusetts is a long and expensive process. You have to attend a hearing at the Registry of Motor Vehicles and pay a reinstatement fee. You may also be forced to attend a driver re-education class.
Until reinstatement is allowed when your suspension period is up, you have to live life without your license. This makes it hard to get to and from school, work, errands, sports, and other activities. Smart motorcyclists decide it’s not worth the risk of getting caught just to get ahead of the traffic, plus they want to avoid the danger of their insurance premiums going up.
Furthermore, some drivers get extremely angry when they see motorcyclists trying to split lanes. They may swerve at you, cut you off, and ride on your tail. Drivers have even instigated incidents of road rage against motorcyclists over lane splitting.
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