Is Lane Splitting Unlawful?
By Maureen & Megan
No matter who you ask, it’s a controversial practice! Motorcyclists say it’s safer than sitting in traffic and eases traffic congestion. Cyclists maintain that it gets them ahead of traffic at intersections so they can be more visible to cars. Motorists argue that it’s dangerous and risky.
Lane splitting, also referred to as stripe riding or white lining, is the practice of riding a bicycle, motorcycle or any other two-wheeled vehicle between rows of slow-moving traffic driving in the same direction. Lane filtering refers to riding between lanes going in the same direction in stopped traffic.
California is currently the only state that allows motorcycle lane splitting.
So, what does this mean for cyclists? We received the following inquiry from a cyclist about lane splitting/filtering:
‘Is any part of the CO Law applicable to lane filtering or splitting?
For example, is it legal for a cyclist to ride between stopped traffic in their lane and parked cars on the right or to ride between two lanes of stopped traffic?”
There is no statute in Colorado that specifically prohibits cyclists from lane splitting or lane filtering; however, the conclusion has always been that since it’s not legal for motorcyclists, cyclists should not do it either.
Furthermore, a cyclist has the same rights and duties as the driver of any other vehicle, so they should follow the same rules when it comes to overtaking and passing another vehicle on the left or right.
"The law says you cannot overtake a vehicle traveling in the same lane and direction, with certain exceptions. Lane splitting has two major concerns. #1) as cyclists, the law requires you be given 3-feet when being passed. Should it not be the same for a cyclist passing a motor vehicle? #2) we already have a problem in Colorado with motorists not expecting cyclists to be where they have the right to be (think right-hook turns). The concern is if lane splitting is permitted, how many accidents and incidents of road rage will we have until the motoring public comes to terms with this mentally and in their driving behavior?" says Frank Barr, Police Officer for the City of Golden.
Chances are, if a cyclist chooses to pass between lanes of cars, or pass up the right side (where there is no bike lane), if a collision occurred- for example, if a car in the right lane suddenly decided to make a right turn having no idea a cyclist has pulled up alongside them, the cyclist will be found at fault, or half-at-fault. Anytime a cyclist does something to deprive themselves of the 3-foot buffer- like pulling alongside the right side of stopped cars, between the car and a curb, if a collision occurs, the cyclist is going to share some blame.
Consider the following scenarios that could cause a cyclist serious injury or death if lane splitting or filtering forward:
- Cyclist is riding between two lanes of moving traffic when a motorist switches lanes unexpectedly and crashes into the cyclist
- Cyclist gets doored when riding between traffic lanes when a passenger opens car door to exit vehicle
- Cyclist stops on the passenger side of the vehicle in the driver’s blind spot and is right-hooked by a turning vehicle at an intersection after filtering forward
When approaching an intersection, it is recommended that a cyclist takes the lane instead of lane splitting or filtering forward. League Certified Instructor Gary Harty prefers to take the lane and wait his turn at stop lights especially if there are only two or three cars ahead of him. “I don’t like to go ahead of the first car because I may not be visible and would be setting myself up for being right hooked,” he says.
Harty prefers to control his lane when turning left. If he is going straight, he will position himself next to the white line, either left or right of the line, the side with the least amount of traffic. “I understand both sides are legal and defend against right hooks. If traffic is slow I would like to control the thru lane.”
Cutting through traffic with rows of cars on both sides doesn’t give a cyclist adequate space either, especially considering that motorists have to give cyclists three-feet when passing.