Riding a motorcycle is a blast. Feeling the wind, hearing the engine rev as you get up to speed, the sound of cars whipping by. But it is important to follow the rules of the road while on a bike, especially because motorists have a tendency not to notice bikes, and this causes quite a few accidents.
One of the most dangerous activities that a biker can partake in is lane-splitting. Yet many bikers love it and consider it one of the advantages that motorbikes have over cars, trucks, and other large vehicles. But just what is lane-splitting, and is it legal in the state of Washington?
To answer this question, we’re going to have to first explore what lane-splitting is to ensure we’re on the same page. With this definition in mind, we will turn our attention over to the laws that govern motorcycles on roadways in Washington. Finally, we will discuss why lane-splitting is treated the way it is, as well as the rare cases where it may be the best available option for a motorist to take.
What Is Lane-Splitting?
Lane-splitting is one of those terms that can easily be misunderstood. For example, lane-splitting does not refer to two motorcycles riding abreast of each other in one lane. This is legal in the state of Washington, while lane-splitting is not.
So what is lane-splitting? Lane-splitting is the act of driving a motorcycle between two lanes of traffic. You see it quite often in action movies. Traffic is moving slowly, so somebody uses a motorcycle to move between the lanes and overtake traffic quickly.
Currently, the only state that allows lane-splitting is California. This could change in the future, though. There are petitions and attempts to try to get Washington to legalize lane-splitting. The idea behind the push for legalization is that lane-splitting would help to alleviate traffic congestion. However, as of the time of this writing the act is still illegal in Washington.
Motorcyclists are often frustrated by laws that make lane-splitting illegal. They want to be able to quickly move through traffic and understand that it may increase the risk of danger. However, the laws are in place for the same reason that seatbelt laws exist: safety. Motorcycle accidents are already fairly common and they are among the most deadly kinds of motor vehicle accidents there are. There are also concerns that lane-splitting could lead to an increase in road rage incidents.
What Are the Laws That Govern Operating a Motorcycle On a Roadway?
Lane-splitting might be illegal in the state of Washington but that does not mean it is not worth understanding what laws govern the operation of a motorcycle on a roadway. To learn more let’s turn our attention over to RCW 46.61.608, which lays out the following:
- Motorcycles are entitled to the full use of a lane: This means that is it illegal for another driver to deprive a motorcyclist of the use of a lane, with an exemption for motorcyclists driving two abreast in a lane.
- Motorcycles are not permitted to overtake in the same lane: You still have to use a passing lane, even if there is room to pass within the same lane. There is an exemption made for passing a cyclist or a pedestrian, so long as you maintain the proper safe passing distance.
- You cannot lane-split: We already covered this above but RCW 46.61.608 is where we get this law from.
- Motorcycles can be no more than two abreast: Motorcycles can be driven one in a lane or two abreast in a lane but that is all, any more would be illegal.
- Police motorcycles may overtake in the same lane or lane-split: This simply specifies that police are allowed to break two of the previous laws so long as they are doing so in the performance of their official duties; so off-duty officers must still follow all of the rules listed above.
Is There Ever a Reason to Lane-Split?
The reason that people lane-split is primarily to get to where they’re going faster. It may be effective but lane-splitting like this is prone to get you a fine. If the officer that catches you is in a bad mood then you may also be charged with additional driving offenses like reckless driving.
So if you are considering lane-splitting because you don’t want to be slowed down, it is best that you don’t. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t very real situations where the best possible choice may be lane-splitting. The difference here is that in these situations the lane-splitting is done because it is the safest option.
For example, you’re on the highway, and a car starts to merge into your lane suddenly. They clearly didn’t see you, and they are about to hit you if you don’t do something. Normally you would move to the passing lane, but that is also full. The only option you have left to avoid getting into a major accident is to lane-split. In this case, your action is technically illegal, but you were forced into doing it in order to protect your own life.
Unfortunately, if a police officer sees you then you could still easily be fined or charged. However, the circumstances of the case may allow you to build a strong defense. In addition, if you are injured, then a personal injury lawyer can help you prove that your actions were caused by the negligent driver.
What Should I Do If I’m Injured While Lane-Splitting
If you are injured while out riding your bike, then you will want to retain the services of an experienced motorcycle accident attorney. They can help you to gather evidence to prove that a negligent driver forced you into the position you were in, caused the accident that injured you, and therefore that individual owes you compensation for the damages you suffered.