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Law Office of Cohen & Jaffe, LLP

New York Motorcycle Lane Splitting: Is It Legal?

It is not unusual after a motorcycle accident for the motorcycle rider to be blamed, regardless of the circumstances of the accident. In many cases, our motorcycle accident attorneys investigate and find evidence that other motorists caused the crash and the injured motorcyclist is not at fault. We can then work to help the rider recover compensation to pay medical bills, compensation for lost income and other accident-related losses.

However, motorcyclists are sometimes at least partially at fault in an accident. In some cases, their error is a maneuver known as “lane splitting,” which is not legal in the state of New York.

New York is a “no-fault” insurance state, which means that policyholders should be able to obtain insurance payments regardless of who was responsible for an accident.

The experienced motorcycle accident attorneys at the Law Office of Cohen & Jaffe, LLP can help you with a motorcycle accident claim, regardless of how or why the accident happened. Avoiding motorcycle lane splitting may help you stay out of an accident.

What is Lane Splitting on a Motorcycle?

The term “lane splitting” refers to riding a motorcycle between two lanes of traffic on the right side of the road (or headed in the same direction, not crossing the centerline). This is sometimes referred to as “filtering,” “white-lining” or “stripe-riding.” Motorcyclists tend to engage in lane-splitting during heavy traffic congestion to pass cars and trucks that are moving below the speed limit or standing still.

It may be tempting to lane split when dealing with New York traffic. But passing cars between lanes of traffic is illegal in the state of New York. The only states that expressly allow lane splitting for passing are California and Utah.

Lane splitting should not be confused with lane sharing, which is two motorcycles riding side-by-side in the same lane. New York state law does not explicitly disallow sharing lanes. State law only says that all motorcyclists are entitled to the full use of a lane.

Motorcycle Lane Splitting: Pros & Cons

California has allowed lane-splitting since 2016 and Utah’s “lane filtering” law went into effect this year. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, at least 15 states have considered bills to legalize lane-splitting in the last six years.

In 2017, an online petition to the New York City Department of Transportation “to permit motorcyclists and scooters to travel between slow-moving lanes of traffic” as an “inexpensive, simple, and immediate way to reduce congestion” drew 1,470 supporters.

The Pew Charitable Trusts report explains both sides of the lane-splitting issue:

  • Supporters of lane-splitting say letting motorcyclists legally split lanes with cars and trucks reduces congestion and is safer for bikers, who can avoid being rear-ended by distracted drivers in stop-and-go traffic.”
  • Opponents of lane-splitting say, “it’s dangerous for bikers who might be struck by cars that suddenly change lanes, and unnerving for drivers who might be startled by a motorcycle whizzing past them.”

The federal government’s Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) supports lane-splitting. A motorcycle’s narrow width can allow it to pass between lanes of stopped or slow-moving cars on roadways when the lanes are wide enough and provide an escape route for motorcyclists who would otherwise be struck from behind.

The MSF said there is evidence that traveling between lanes of stopped or slow-moving cars on multiple-lane roads such as interstate highways slightly reduces crash frequency compared with staying within the lane.

Two studies by the Safe Transportation Research & Education Center (SafeTREC) at the University of California Berkeley (UCB) support lane-splitting, as well.

A 2015 SafeTREC report says motorcyclists who split lanes were likely commuting, traveling at lower speeds than other motorcyclists and were using better helmets. The report noted that the severity of injuries in a motorcycle accident increases with motorcycle speed. It said lane-splitting motorcyclists who get into accidents are “much less often injured during collisions.”

A 2014 SafeTREC report also said lane-splitting motorcyclists “were less likely to be rear-ended but more likely to have rear-ended another vehicle than other motorcyclists.”

On the other side of the debate, the AAA auto club opposes lane-splitting and has helped defeat legislation to allow it in Georgia, Hawaii and Texas.

“Motorists who don’t expect to be passed by a vehicle traveling between lanes can side-swipe a motorcycle or turn into its path,” Richard Romer, AAA’s state relations manager, told the Pew reporter.

The not-for-profit Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) says riders can manage the risks of lane-splitting by being extra cautious and alert and following a few common-sense guidelines, which include:

  • Only split between the two left-most traffic lanes. This consistency of location helps car drivers in those lanes learn to expect motorcyclists.
  • Do not split lanes when traffic is at or near the speed limit.
  • Do not ride substantially faster than the adjacent lines of cars, and never exceed the speed limit.
  • Use the carpool lane, if present, instead of splitting lanes, if the traffic in the carpool lane is flowing freely. It is legal throughout the U.S. for a solo motorcyclist to use carpool lanes.

New York Motorcycle Laws Riders Need to Know

To drive a motorcycle in New York state, you must have a Class M or MJ operator’s license or learner’s permit. A learner’s permit requires passing a written test. When riding, the learner must be supervised by a driver with a valid motorcycle license.

New York laws have certain requirements for motorcycles and motorcycle riding. The laws specify that:

  • A motorcycle helmet is required for all riders. Motorcycle helmets must meet US DOT federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS 218).
  • Eye protection is required for all riders. Eyewear must, at a minimum, conform to standards established by the American National Standard Institute (ANSI – Z87.1).
  • Motorcycle helmet speakers may only have one earphone.
  • Daytime headlight use is required. Headlight modulators are permitted.
  • A passenger seat and footrest are required if carrying a passenger.
  • A muffler is required. “Cutouts” or mufflers with removable baffles are not legal.

What to Do If You Have Been in a Lane-Splitting Motorcycle Crash

If you have been injured in a motorcycle lane-splitting accident in New York, you should contact a motorcycle accident attorney at the Law Office of Cohen & Jaffe, LLP in Long Island. We can make sure your insurance company pays what you are due, and a motorist whose negligence has contributed to a motorcycle accident may also be held liable for your injuries and losses.

Call our office or contact us online, and we will respond immediately. We can meet you wherever it is most convenient to you to provide you with a free legal consultation.

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