Sullivan: My experience with a lane splitter and why it is still illegal

Sep 22, 2022, 6:08 AM | Updated: 8:02 am
lane splitter...
Photo from Flickr

A question for all motorcyclists today. Do you want to make it home alive?

Then stop lane splitting.

I almost killed someone on Sunday. I was a blink of an eye away from hitting a motorcycle at 75 miles an hour on northbound Interstate 5 in Tacoma, dumping that rider on the pavement and leaving her for the convoy of other drivers, also going 75, right behind me.

Did I fail to look? Was I distracted? No. This rider was lane splitting between me and the car next to me that I was passing and also going 75 miles an hour. That’s just how fast everyone was going. If I had not noticed her lane splitting in my rear-view mirror a few moments earlier, it would have been all over for her. When I passed the car and moved into the HOV lane on my left, she was on my hip and completely hidden. I felt her so I hesitated. Her handlebar nearly scraped my door.

Why am I sharing this story? Because it scared the (expletive) out of me, and our KIRO Newsradio listeners have been reporting motorcycle lane splitting so much lately. I want all those riders to make it home.

Lane splitting is illegal in Washington. It always has been. The legislature raised the idea of changing that a few times in the last decade but nothing was passed. Washington State Trooper Rick Johnson said a lot of riders get pulled over for this try and argue that the law has changed. It hasn’t.

“I think people talk to other people, and it’s like the telephone game, like ‘hey this passed,'” he said. “But no, It’s not a law.”

Lane splitting is only legal in California. Our drivers do not expect it. They aren’t prepared for it. They will not look an extra time to see if you are there because you shouldn’t be there.

“This area is not used to lane splitting, and it’s probably one of the reasons it hasn’t passed,” Trooper Johnson said. “If it were to pass, I feel that after doing this for 31 years, we would have a lot more collisions.”

Trooper Johnson said most of the reports come in congestion, where the cars aren’t moving, and motorcycles move between the lanes or on the shoulders to bypass the backups. My experience with a rider splitting at speed might an outlier, but I have seen other riders doing this too. Our drivers have also reported this much more aggressive splitting at speed.

I asked Trooper Johnson what I could have done differently, if anything. He told me I was lucky that I had seen the rider for that brief moment.

“The last thing you would expect is a motorcycle splitting lanes, especially at that speed,” he said. “You got lucky…Well, the motorcycle rider got lucky, really.”

And what really surprised me in all this was the rider never acknowledged that I was even there. As she passed me, bike to door mirror, I honked and got no reaction. She just moved on to the next group of cars that were in her way and kept splitting between them.

It still bothers me when I think of those milliseconds where both of our lives would have been changed forever if either of us had done anything differently.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.


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Sullivan: My experience with a lane splitter and why it is still illegal