NYC Motorcycle Lane Splitting Law

Motorcyclists are not as visible as other vehicles on the road. Various road hazards also have a greater potential to cause accidents. A full-size car may barely notice a pothole in the road, while it could cause a motorcycle to crash. When there is room for the motorcycle to maneuver, it allows the rider to avoid road hazards while increasing visibility to the other vehicles. Some people say that lane-splitting would allow motorcyclists to avoid accidents, to be safer on the road. Others aren’t so certain.

What is Lane Splitting?

Lane splitting is a practice where a motorcycle rides between the lanes of stopped traffic or slow-moving vehicles while traveling in the same direction. It is sometimes also known as stripe riding, filtering, white lining, or lane sharing. Lane splitting is a controversial practice in the United States. At this time, California is the only state that has made lane splitting legal. There has been little research on the safety of this practice. Some other countries have made it legal, but the evidence that lane splitting prevents accidents or contributes to them is inconclusive. Each side of the debate has strong opinions, and the issue is hotly debated.

Risks of Lane Splitting

There are several specific risks that a motorcyclist can encounter while lane splitting. While under certain circumstances it is believed to improve the safety of the rider, there are some serious hazards that may be encountered:

  • Other cars on the road may make sudden lane changes.
  • A driver of a stopped or parked vehicle may open his or her door unexpectedly and the motorcyclist may hit it.
  • Drivers in certain cities and states tend to be more aggressive. New York City drivers are notorious for their aggressive driving.
  • The lanes on New York City streets are typically quite narrow, making lane splitting hazardous.
  • NYC traffic is very heavy, in both the city and on the highways.
  • Traffic on NYC highways tends to be heavy and fast moving.
  • Most motorcyclists do not know the correct way to lane-split. They don’t do it in the proper lanes, and they do it at speeds that are much too fast.
  • A motorcycle is almost invisible to tractor trailers and larger vehicles. Lane splitting could make it even more dangerous for a motorcyclist riding by or passing a large vehicle.

U.C. Berkeley Study on Lane Splitting

A 2015 study analyzed data from the California Enhanced Motorcycle Collision Data Project. It examined 5,969 motorcyclists involved in accidents (specifically, the prevalence of lane splitting and resulting injuries). Of the motorcycle accidents, 17% (997) were lane splitting when they had their accident. The researchers drew several conclusions from the data, including the observation that motorcyclists seem to be least likely to be involved in an accident or be injured when they maintain a 10-15 mph differential from the other vehicles on the road and are riding in traffic that is moving at less than 50 mph.

Is Lane Splitting Legal in NYC?

Currently, lane splitting is illegal in New York. When it comes to ensuring that motorcyclists are safe on the road, the traffic laws are very important. New York has several laws in place regarding motorcyclists. For instance, all motorcycle riders are required to wear a helmet. It does not matter their level of experience, their age, or whether they are a passenger or the driver, they must wear a helmet under New York motorcycle law.

When it comes to lane usage, state law does say that all motorcyclists are entitled to use the entire lane even though they do not use or take up the entire lane. This means that a car or truck on the road cannot violate the motorcyclist’s space just because they don’t fill the entire lane. For instance, a car cannot pass a motorcycle on the other half of the bike’s lane. It must treat the motorcycle as if it actually takes up the full lane. In this same vein, treating a motorcycle as if it takes up the entire lane naturally transitions into lane splitting.

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