Lane splitting, or riding a motorcycle between two lanes of traffic traveling in the same direction, is illegal in Alabama. The only state in which the law permits motorcyclists to lane split is California. Many motorcyclists believe lane splitting is a safer way to travel, while others disagree. Other motorists have also had mixed feelings on the subject. As of today, however, motorcyclists cannot lawfully lane split in Alabama.
What Is Lane Splitting?
Lane splitting, also called lane sharing, is a motorcycle maneuver in which the motorcyclist rides or parks between two lanes of traffic, on the line between the lanes. Bicycles may also engage in the practice of lane splitting. Lane splitting is legal in Europe and Asia, where it is a common practice in congested towns. A general consensus on the safety of lane splitting does not exist. Instead, the country has mixed opinions. Arguments for lane splitting include:
- It saves time. Lane splitting allows motorcycles to filter through stopped or slowed traffic, getting to their destinations faster and alleviating roadway congestion. In this way, allowing it could reduce highway traffic and save all drivers time on commutes.
- It protects motorcyclists from rear-end collisions. Rear-end collisions can be fatal for motorcyclists. If they can lane split, they can stop between vehicles instead of stopping with the vehicle approaching the rear. This helps prevent other drivers from rear-ending stopped motorcyclists.
- It puts motorcyclists in control. Motorcyclists who lane split have more control over their safety from other vehicles. They can distance themselves from passenger vehicles and put themselves in positions that reduce the risk of collisions. Those who lane split safely can decrease their chance of getting into accidents.
- It promotes safety. A study of lane-splitting at the University of California Berkeley found that motorcyclists who engaged in the practice were more likely to obey speed limits, wear helmets, and engage in other safe riding techniques.
People who promote lane splitting believe it can prevent serious personal injuries, save time, and clear traffic. Those who are against it fear it will increase the risks to motorcyclists, not decrease them. Arguments against lane splitting say it puts motorcyclists at risk of striking open car doors and getting into merge accidents. Those against lane splitting also say it can startle other drivers and cause car accidents. So far, only California has allowed motorcyclists to lane split.
Lane Splitting Laws in Alabama
Alabama traffic laws prohibit lane splitting. The laws treat motorcycles the same as passenger vehicles. Motorcycles may take an entire lane of space without vehicle encroachment. Motorcyclists may pass slower-moving vehicles by traveling into the next lane over. They cannot ride or pass within the same lane as a motor vehicle, or lane share. Motorcyclists can, however, share one lane with fellow motorcyclists.
Alabama Code Section 32-5A-242(c) directly states that no person shall operate a motorcycle between lanes of traffic, or between two adjacent lines of vehicles. The only exception is if the rider is an on-duty police officer riding between lanes in the performance of official duties. If a motorcyclist gets into an accident while illegally lane splitting in Alabama, he or she may be liable for damages. It does not matter whether the motorcyclist was lane splitting safely or obeying the speed limit. If he or she was riding between lanes, he or she was breaking the law.
When California permitted lane splitting, it published regulations motorcyclists must follow to lane split safely and reasonably. The Department of Motor Vehicles soon took the guidelines down, however, due to the lack of formal rulemaking processes for lane splitting. In general, motorcyclists who lane split in California must use common sense traffic safety – or risk receiving a traffic ticket. Since California eliminated its law prohibiting lane splitting, other states are likely to soon do the same. For now, however, it remains illegal in Alabama.