Once and for all: Motorcycle lane-splitting is still illegal

Jun 8, 2023, 5:02 AM | Updated: 9:53 am

Motorcycle lane-splitting...

Motorcycle lane-splitting is still illegal in Washington. (Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Have you noticed a lot more motorcycle lane-splitting recently? It’s incredibly dangerous, and it’s still illegal.

I get text messages all the time asking me about lane-splitting or reporting riders doing it.

This last weekend as I was driving home from the beach, I had a motorcycle rip through the lanes around me going at least 15 miles an hour faster than traffic and traffic was going 70. He was gone in an instant. I couldn’t even follow him as he weaved around and through the cars ahead of me.

One wrong move by any other driver or that rider, and he would have been gone for good.  “Motorcyclists just don’t win when they get tangled up with a car,” Washington State Patrol Trooper Rick Johnson said.

There have already been several serious injury motorcycle crashes since the weather turned nice. One hundred-twenty five riders were killed on Washington roads last year, a number not seen in decades. About 75 riders die every year in our state.

Lane-splitting is when a motorcycle rider uses the space between cars, between the lanes, to pass traffic. It happens most often in slower traffic, but it’s happening a lot more often at speed now too.

“You check your mirror, it’s clear, you signal, change lanes and by that time that motorcycle that’s splitting could be into your the back of your vehicle,” Trooper Johnson said.  “You’re not expecting a motorcycle traveling faster than anybody else to be coming down in between lanes.”

I have had riders pass me on the shoulder in both stop-and-go traffic and at higher speeds.

Let’s put this to bed once and for all. Lane-splitting is illegal in Washington. It has never been legal in Washington.

The Legislature has introduced bills that would allow limited lane splitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic and on the shoulder, but those bills have never made it out of committee. Just because they were introduced didn’t make it legal.

Trooper Johnson said some riders are spreading bad information. 

“It’s kind of folklore among motorcycling communities when one person would tell another person it (splitting) passed,” he said. “I had one gentleman with a copy of the bill, and I’m like ‘That’s correct, that’s a copy of the bill but it didn’t pass.'”

Trooper Johnson wants every rider that hears this story to tell every other rider they know to try and stop the misinformation.

Of course, there are riders who do it, knowing perfectly well that it isn’t illegal. Trooper Johnson said a rider with hidden plates has avoided a traffic stop the last two mornings by speeding off and splitting lanes.

What should you do if you see lane-splitting?

“If you can get a description of what they’re wearing, the color of the helmet or if you can see a plate,” Trooper Johnson said that is helpful. “A lot of these bikes that have been running from us, either the plates are flipped up or they aren’t visible, or they don’t have plates.  The direction of travel or what you observe, call 9-1-1.”

Don’t follow the rider. Don’t up your aggression. Call 9-1-1 and let law enforcement handle it.

Should lane-splitting be legal? Trooper Johnson doesn’t think it’s a good idea for Washington. 

“I just think it would not be the best traffic safety decision to allow motorcycles to split,” he said.


Because most Washington riders only come out when the weather is nice. That’s not all year here, and our drivers are not used to it, and likely wouldn’t become used to it.

In the meantime, drivers give riders plenty of space. Check your mirrors one extra time before changing lanes. Riders remember that our drivers aren’t expecting you between lanes and our drivers are unpredictable. Give cars a little extra room too.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.


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Once and for all: Motorcycle lane-splitting is still illegal