Lane splitting has been one of the motorcycle industry’s most controversial legal concerns. Experienced riders would say it’s no big deal, while others believe it increases the risk of motor vehicle accidents.
However, regardless of differing opinions about the issue, the bottom line is motorcyclists should adhere to traffic laws. State governments have issued various laws addressing various concerns through the years.
The federal government has also seen fit to issue an overarching public law. The SAFETEA–LU, or Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, funds highway safety programs, among other things. It highlights the importance of safely sharing the road with motorcyclists, who have the same rights as motorists on any roadway.
Despite these programs, motor vehicles cause almost half of motorcycle crashes in the United States. Cars turning left in front of a motorcyclist triggered approximately 40 percent of these motorcycle accidents.
If a motorcycle crash injured you, seek legal representation from a personal injury lawyer. Law firms usually provide free consultations for injured victims and help them recover maximum compensation for their losses.
What is lane splitting?
Lane splitting occurs when motorcycles pass slow-moving traffic through the gap between two parallel lanes. Also known as stripe riding or white lining, motorcyclists ride on white pavement markings to weave through traffic.
California was the first state that allowed lane splitting, defining it in the following way:
“Lane splitting means driving a motorcycle, as defined in Section 400, that has two wheels in contact with the ground, between rows of stopped or moving vehicles in the same lane, including on both divided and undivided streets, roads, or highways.”
In California, motorcyclists can ride between moving vehicles but should not exceed 10mph above the surrounding traffic.
Lane Splitting vs. Lane Sharing vs. Lane Filtering
Lane splitting, lane sharing, and lane filtering represent three unique motorcyclist behavior on the road. Many institutions interchangeably use lane splitting and lane filtering, but that is a common misconception. For example, Montana legally defines lane filtering as:
“The act of overtaking and passing another vehicle that is stopped or traveling at a speed not in excess of 10 miles an hour in the same direction of travel and in the same lane.”
Meanwhile, states that legalized lane filtering, like Arizona and Utah, have different interpretations of the term. It is essential to distinguish them from one another as lane filtering can be legal in states where lane splitting is not.
Lane filtering occurs when a motorcyclist moves between stationary traffic. Unlike lane splitting, the law only permits lane filtering between stopped vehicles.
For instance, Utah only allows motorcycles to ride between cars stopped at a light. Motorcycles may only proceed to the front of the line when vehicles are at a traffic light or stop sign.
The same law applies to Arizona, but only on roadways with a 45 mph or less limit. And motorcyclists may only pass between lanes, not on the median or shoulder.
Some advocates consider lane filtering as a safe alternative to lane splitting. Lane filtering helps motorcycle riders avoid rear-end collisions, which are more likely to happen when in-between vehicles.
Lane sharing is when two motorcyclists ride side-by-side in the same lane. While it is legal for two motorcycles to share a lane in some states, motorcyclists oppose it.
Motorcycle riders prefer to travel in staggered formations to create space for each other within a single lane. It provides riders a clear road view while maintaining distance for sudden or quick maneuvers.
Staggered formations help avoid road obstructions like rocks, debris, critters, potholes, etc. In a usual staggered formation, a leader takes the helm on the left side of the lane. It is followed by a second rider on the right side and a third rider behind the leader.
Lane Splitting Laws in Texas
In Texas, no traffic laws explicitly prohibit lane splitting and lane filtering. But according to Section 545.60 of the Texas Transportation Code, motorists and motorcyclists must drive entirely within a single lane. It further stipulates that:
“An operator on a roadway divided into two or more clearly marked lanes for traffic may not move from the lane unless that movement can be made safely.”
Suppose motorcyclists fail to obey traffic rules in Texas. In that case, law enforcement officers may file citations for reckless driving or unsafe lane changes. Violators may face a fine not greater than $200.
Under the Texas Department of Public Safety, the government may suspend the license of a motorcyclist if they committed:
“(1) Four or more moving traffic violations within a 12-month period, or (2) seven or more traffic violations within a 24-month period.”
Attempts to legalize lane splitting in Texas
Texas legislators have proposed changes to the state’s lane-splitting laws. The most recent was by Senator Kirk Watson (Democrat) from Austin, Texas. He introduced a bill addressing lane splitting in 2017. However, this bill and many others still need to pass the Texas Senate transportation committee.
Senate Bill 288 aims to amend the existing Transportation Code 545.060 by adding the following provisions:
“The operator of a motorcycle operating a limited-access or controlled-access highway may operate the motorcycle for a safe distance between lanes of traffic moving in the same direction during periods of traffic congestion…”
According to the bill, motorcyclists must operate the motorcycle at a speed within five mph of the other traffic. Additionally, motorcycle riders must only split lanes in traffic moving at a rate of 20 miles per hour or less.
Is motorcycle lane splitting safe?
There has yet to be a consensus over the safety of lane splitting. It is one of the most significant reasons states like Texas have yet to pass a law legalizing it. Experienced motorcycle riders consider it a safety technique in high-traffic areas that eases congestion.
Lane splitting and lane filtering advocates have repeatedly cited a UC Berkeley study that supports their claim. According to the 2015 findings, motorcyclists can safely split lanes in traffic moving less than 50mph. In addition, the rider must stay within the surrounding traffic’s speed by 15mph.
In addition, they explained that lane-splitting riders were less likely to suffer head, torso, or fatal injuries. And they were significantly less likely to be involved in rear-ended collisions.
However, even the state of California, which legalized lane splitting, provided a disclaimer for motorcyclists. It says:
“Lane splitting can be dangerous and extreme caution should be exercised. It should not be performed by inexperienced riders. The risk of death or serious injury during a lane splitting collision increases as speed and speed differential increases…. Every rider has the ultimate responsibility for their own decision-making and safety.”
In 2020, Texas recorded more than 400 motorcycle accident fatalities. It accounted for 12 percent of all traffic deaths in the state.
According to the American Motorcyclist Association, one of the most hazardous situations for a motorcyclist is being stuck in highway traffic. The sudden movement of vehicles and the increasing frustration of vehicle operators pose a hazard for riders. It advocates lane splitting to avoid these risks.
However, lane-splitting motorcycle riders must also contend with other risks. Blindspots, sudden lane changes, and limitations in space can cause lane-splitting accidents. Since motorcyclists are completely exposed, it increases the risk of severe or fatal injuries in accidents.
Usually, drivers do not anticipate motorcyclists riding between lanes of traffic. If a driver changes lanes while a rider is lane splitting, they may see them at the last second. It might lead to the driver swerving into other cars and triggering a multi-car crash. It is especially true if a motorcyclist rides in the blind spot of large motor vehicles like buses or trucks.
Driving in the middle of two lanes poses problems when the space between vehicles is narrow. Riders might find maneuvering or maintaining their balance difficult, even in stationary traffic. In addition, a stopped driver suddenly opening their door might strike a lane-splitting rider.
Common motorcycle accident injuries include cuts, bruises, and lacerations. But more severe injuries can come from lane-splitting accidents like head and neck injuries, whiplash, and fractures.
While Texas laws require motorcycle riders to wear protective headgear, it does not eliminate the possibility of head injuries. Motorcycle accidents may result in skull fractures, concussions, or other traumatic brain injuries.
Crash victims may also experience neck and spine injuries. After an accident, unhelmeted riders might suffer nerve damage, whiplash, or spinal cord damage.
The extremities of motorcyclists are the most vulnerable in a lane-splitting accident. They might sustain sprains or broken bones that may lead to limb amputation.
Who is liable for a lane-splitting accident in Texas?
As lane splitting is implicitly illegal in Texas, motorcyclists are typically at fault in an accident. But a motorist may be liable for a lane-splitting accident in some cases. For instance, a driver suddenly changed lanes without signaling and struck you. Other scenarios include:
- The driver was using their phone while driving.
- The driver was engaging in reckless acts, such as swerving or driving under the influence.
- The motorcyclist was avoiding a hazard or obstacle on the road.
- The rider finished a course on motorcycle riding and is an experienced rider.
- The motorcyclist rode carefully and stayed within the speed limit without weaving in and out of lanes.
If a rider was involved in a lane-splitting accident, they might share fault with the driver at best. But since Texas follows comparative negligence rules, it may bar the motorcyclist from receiving damages in some cases.
Suppose the court determines the motorcyclist to be 30 percent at fault for the incident. In that case, they may recover 70 percent of the damages. But if the rider is more than 50 percent liable, they won’t be legally able to receive compensation.
Steps to Successfully File a Motorcycle Accident Claim in Texas
Similar to any other accident, motorcyclists might initially experience uncertainty or confusion. However, it is essential to stay alert and mitigate further injuries. If you were in a motorcycle accident, follow these simple steps:
- Seek medical attention immediately: Regardless of whether you see surface injuries or dislocated bones, it is advisable to receive emergency treatment. Some injuries do not impact victims directly after an accident. Some have delayed symptoms that only appear several hours to a few days following the incident. Medical records and bills may also help with your accident claim or a potential lawsuit.
- Call law enforcement: Contact police officers at the earliest opportunity to disclose the accident. They will write up a police report detailing what occurred in the incident. They will also ask you about your experience. In some cases, the information in the police report will guide insurance companies in determining liability.
- Take pictures of the scene: Photographs are concrete proof of accident claims. Be sure to take photos of the accident scene from various angles. In addition, focus on any visible injuries, property damage, road conditions, and the parties involved.
Contact a personal injury lawyer: Seeking legal representation is the best approach when filing motorcycle accident claims. They have prior experience and knowledge of legal processes that will help expedite your case.
Did you know?
California was the first state to legalize lane splitting. In 2016, Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Assembly Bill 51 into law. It authorized the California Highway Patrol to develop safety guidelines on lane splitting for motorists and motorcyclists.
Connect With a Personal Injury Lawyer
Dealing with insurance companies in Texas can be tricky after a lane-splitting accident as a motorcyclist. Since Texas is a fault state, it is in their interest to blame you. Sometimes, they may frame conversations that will make you share damaging statements on record. It also doesn’t help your case that lane splitting is implicitly illegal in the state.
Hiring a personal injury lawyer is critical when speaking with insurance adjusters. They are skilled in negotiating with insurance companies and will assist you in recovering fair compensation for your losses.
The Personal Injury Center helps you connect with reputable personal injury lawyers knowledgeable in motorcycle accident cases. You can learn more about legal issues in motorcycle cases through its vast collection of legal articles.
Let a motorcycle accident lawyer help with your insurance claim. Contact The Personal Injury Center to find a lawyer for you.
FAQs on Lane Splitting in Texas
A two-second gap or distance provides motorcyclists with a cushion of space. It gives them time to react and room to maneuver if the driver ahead abruptly stops. In addition, it offers a better view of possible road hazards like potholes.
It is generally illegal for motorcycle riders to use the shoulder. However, Hawaii allows motorcyclists to "shoulder surf." The state’s Department of Transportation may designate shoulders of a highway where they may authorize riders to use it. Washington State also allows shoulder surfing in certain zones.