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 Lane Splitting Legal in MA?
As easy as it may be for motorcycle enthusiasts, lane splitting is not legal on Massachusetts roadways. 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.
Is Lane Splitting the Same as Lane Filtering?
You may have heard the term “lane filtering” and wondered if it is the same as lane splitting. Actually, the two terms are slightly different. Lane filtering is when a motorcycle or bicycle rides between rows of cars that are stopped or parked.
The state of Utah allows lane filtering. Motorcyclists there can ride between rows of cars that are stopped at a traffic signal, for example. Lane filtering is also not legal in Massachusetts, though.
Motorcycle Awareness Tips
As well as not indulging in lane splitting, there are many other things you can do to stay safe on the roads of Massachusetts while operating a motorcycle. Follow these tips to avoid causing or being involved in motorcycle accidents, and you’ll appreciate staying healthier and not watching your insurance costs rise.
Choose the right bike for you. You may have a vision of yourself on a bike you saw in a movie, but it could be too large and too heavy for you to control. Consider the following when purchasing a motorcycle:
- The power of the bike and the motor size
- The wet weight (weight of the bike once it’s fueled up and has all its fluids on board, as well as accessories you add)
- The power-to-weight ratio, which determines how fast the bike is
- Bike configuration for your size, anatomy, and riding ability
Wear a helmet with full coverage. Of course, you’re going to wear a motorcycle helmet, even on short jaunts, but make sure it has a face shield. It may be hotter and not as stylish as other options, but it could save your life if you slide in a fall or if road debris flies up in your face.
Get outfitted in protective gear. Your body is exposed when you ride a bike, and you need to protect it from involuntary “horizontal parking.” Road rash (AKA abrasions) and other injuries can be prevented or minimized with gear made especially for motorcycle riding.
Choose gloves that meet all your needs. Your bike gloves offer protection and warmth, but they need to also permit dexterity on the clutch, particularly if you have smaller hands. Select a model that checks all these boxes, and consider getting several pairs for different seasons.
Stay visible to other motorists. Motorcycles are less visible on the road because of their smaller size and often because their riders are dressed in dark colors. You can counter this in several ways:
- Wear a bright or reflective vest or jacket.
- Ride with your headlights on.
- Use turn signals and hand signals.
- Avoid riding in other motorists’ blind spots.
Know your capabilities and endurance. Riding a bike can be a real workout. If you’re new to motorcycle riding or haven’t ridden in a while, don’t overdo it. Also, heed this advice:
- Get comfortable with your bike around home before traveling further.
- Stop for rest and food periodically on long trips.
- Don’t ride when you’re tired or have been drinking.
- Stay hydrated, especially in hot summer weather.
- Plan your route in advance so you won’t find yourself in over your head.
- Stay over in a hotel if night riding is too much or if the weather changes.
Check the weather before heading out. Changeable weather can have a much greater effect on bikers than on other motorists. Look at the forecast the night before a big ride and again in the morning; be ready to change your plans accordingly if necessary.
Do a bike evaluation pre-ride. We can’t emphasize enough how much more vulnerable motorcycles are than cars and trucks. It’s essential to check over your bike before every ride, whether you’re commuting to work or doing an all-day weekend ride with your club:
- Check to make sure brake lights and turn signals are working.
- See that the headlamp works.
- Look for cracks or other issues with your mirrors.
- Check tires for wear, nail punctures, etc.
- Make sure there are no cracks or bends on spokes or rims.
- Assess tire pressure and add air if necessary.
- See if your fluids need to be topped off.
- Look for leaks from oil, brake fluid, coolant, etc.
- Check over the entire body, from the forks to the stands.
Keep up maintenance on your bike. Don’t let little repairs slide, lest they become bigger ones that cost more and could result in an accident. If you don’t want to have a professional mechanic do it, take a class to learn how to do maintenance yourself.
Don’t drink and ride. You need all your physical and mental abilities to ride a motorcycle. Since alcohol can diminish your awareness and response time, always keep a policy of at least eight hours between consuming alcohol and getting in your bike seat.
Ride with people who know what they’re doing. You don’t want to be in a group of all novices, nor with people who ride intoxicated or violate safety laws. Choose your riding friends carefully, and think twice before riding abreast of another motorcyclist unless you’re sure of their ability and integrity.
Learn how to ride defensively. This is good advice for all kinds of motorists. There are excellent classes available these days to learn defensive driving for motorcycles, like these pointers:
- Always assume other motorists aren’t paying attention or will make a mistake.
- Maintain a safe space between you and other motorists. Don’t tailgate, and give yourself plenty of braking room, especially in slippery conditions.
- Left turns against oncoming traffic are where the bulk of all motor vehicle accidents happen. Pay extra attention at these turns, and be willing to wait for oncoming traffic to clear to give yourself extra time to cross.
- Have an escape route planned both when stopped and when moving. If another vehicle moves into your lane or comes up too fast behind you, know where you can go to avoid an accident.
- Feather your clutch on tighter turns to avoid all-or-nothing situations that can result in you laying down your bike.
- Don’t fall prey to distractions. Keep the music down so you can hear horns and sirens. Look where you want your bike to go, not around you, other than a quick scan necessary for safe operation.
- Be particularly vigilant around semi-trucks. Other drivers, as well as the truck driver, may have trouble seeing you. Only pass when it’s safe to do so, and be careful not to get caught in their wind turbulence. Never ride for long next to a semi.
Know what to do in case of an accident. Hopefully, you won’t need to follow these steps, but they’re good to know:
- Stay at the scene; don’t leave.
- Call 911 for assistance.
- Move out of traffic, if possible, to avoid further accidents.
- Exchange information with other motorists involved.
- Don’t admit to fault, as you may not be responsible.
- Call an accident attorney if you feel you need help.
Breakstone, White & Gluck are experienced Massachusetts personal injury attorneys who also specialize in accidents. Whether you have been found at fault in an accident or you are a victim seeking justice, we welcome the opportunity to speak with you about your case and make sure your rights are protected. We offer a free consultation—call 800-379-1244 or reach out online to let us know how we can help.