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Is Lane Splitting Legal for Motorcyclists in Virginia?

February 16, 2012 by The Parrish Law Firm

Getting on the same page is the first step toward answering the question about the legality of lane splitting. Pop quiz time. Lane splitting is:

A) When two motorcyclists ride side by side in the same lane.

B) When a motorcyclist passes between two vehicles in adjacent lanes while traffic is moving or at a standstill.

If you picked “A,” you aced the test. If you picked “B,” you aced the test. The language issue is a bit confusing these days because lane splitting (definition “A”) was legalized by the General Assembly of Virginia in 2012. Now people are pushing for legalization of lane splitting (definition “B”).

The arguments for the single-lane tandem formation of motorcycles make sense, and obviously made sense to Virginia legislators: In tandem, the motorcycles are more visible, especially at night, and it makes the line of traffic modestly shorter.

The argument for and against motorcycles passing between vehicles in adjacent lanes is still going full throttle. What isn’t arguable in Virginia is the legality. It isn’t legal – yet. Comment threads on motorcycling websites warn that passing between moving or stopped vehicles can get you a ticket for reckless driving.

California Is Leading the Motorcycle Pack

There is one state that allows motorcyclists to lane split, a k a filter or stripe ride, and it’s California.

For all the cage dwellers out there (“cage,” which is biker slang for cars, trucks, and vans), “stripe riding” is what a motorcyclist does when using the space between two vehicles going in the same direction in adjacent lanes. The motorcyclists pass them by riding the white stripes. Bikers and some academics say it enhances safety.

That argument is reinforced by an article posted online in June 2016 by The Washington Post, which says of lane splitting, “It’s wild, it’s scary, it’s fascinating and – despite how crazy it looks – it’s legal in the Golden State. The big surprise is that, within limits, it’s also safe, at least according to one of the few studies that’s looked at the practice.”

The study, done by the Safe Transportation Research & Education Center at the University of California Berkeley, compared crash data of those who split with those who don’t, and it found that the lane splitters log a lower rate of fatalities and are responsible for fewer serious injuries.

The study notes that lane splitting typically is done during rush hour, when people are less likely to have been drinking and bikers usually aren’t carrying a passenger.

Lane-Splitting Fans Push for Legalization in Virginia

Fans of lane splitting (definition “B”) tout the reduction of automobile traffic during commutes and the ability of motorcycles to ease traffic by passing through congested areas more quickly.

There are, says Chris Cochran, a California Office of Traffic Safety spokesman quoted by The Washington Post, “many opinions about it and very little data.” He cites a study done by his office that found lane splitting, done prudently, “is no more dangerous than regular motorcycle-riding.”

A petition organized online at www.change.org seeks to legalize the maneuver in Virginia. The petition, with 3,751 signatures, was forwarded to the Virginia secretary of transportation. In the comments section of the online petition forum, stripe-riding advocates stress the benefits of motorcyclists being able to get out of dense traffic where they are at greater risk of being rear-ended. For example:

“This is important because the amount of distracted drivers on the road is on the rise everyday. I would like to have the option to remove myself from a dangerous situation legally. By being able to move to the front of an intersection I will greatly reduce the possibility of an accident.” – Sean Skinner, Hamilton, Va.

The petition comments section includes this oft-cited mechanical reason for allowing lane splitting:

“My engine is air cooled. Standing still in traffic overheats it really bad.” – Scott Mead, West Fargo, N.D.

Stripe Riding Pushes Some Over the Line

The Washington Post article on stripe riding cites road rage as a risk. It seems some drivers stuck in traffic aren’t thrilled to hear the roar of a Harley-Davidson that is passing within arm’s reach. A motorist in Texas was charged with two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for, according to law enforcement, getting riled and running a passing motorcyclist and passenger off the road.

Although the newspaper clarified that the motorist in Texas was being passed the old-fashioned way, many bikers note that aggressive drivers pose a risk to riders in general when they get angry and try to block riders from passing.

Unfortunately, that type of dangerous behavior is all too common on Virginia’s roads. If that kind of recklessness or negligence results in injury to you or a loved one, you should get medical help immediately, then contact the experienced Virginia motorcycle accident attorneys at Parrish Law Firm.

Our dedicated team will meet with you for free to discuss your case and answer any questions you may have. A longtime Virginia resident, Jim Parrish has deep roots in Manassas, Fairfax, and the surrounding Northern Virginia communities, and he has extensive knowledge of Virginia motorcycle laws. He also spent years working for the insurance industry, so he brings sharp insights into how insurance companies handle motorcycle accident claims.

Contact Parrish Law Firm today to schedule a free initial consultation.

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