While lane splitting is common in many countries worldwide, the United States leaves traffic laws in the hands of each state.
This means that each state gets to decide what motorist behaviors are legal or not. A surprisingly low number of states allow for lane splitting.
So, Is It Legal in North Carolina?
No, lane splitting is not legal in North Carolina. However, lane splitting is a somewhat confusing legal subject in North Carolina. The law is not entirely clear on the practice.
The North Carolina law that most closely addressed lane splitting is GS 20-146. This section of the North Carolina motor vehicle code specifies that vehicles are entitled to the full use of a lane and must stay in that lane unless passing.
While not expressly prohibiting it, this implies that a law enforcement officer could stop and cite you for lane splitting.
What About Lane Sharing?
Lane sharing is different from lane splitting or lane filtering. While lane splitting involves passing cars or trucks in the same lane they occupy or between two lanes of other vehicles, lane sharing involves two or more motorcycles sharing the same lane side by side.
Interestingly, North Carolina law is much more specific about lane sharing. In GS 20-146.1, it states, “Motorcycles shall not be operated more than two abreast in a single lane.” This implies that lane sharing is legal for a maximum of two motorcycles.
Future of Lane Splitting in North Carolina
Many motorcyclists don’t like the ambiguous nature of North Carolina’s laws on lane splitting. As a result, they’ve petitioned the government to make the practice legal.
Nevertheless, the North Carolina legislature does not appear to have much interest in clarifying the matter of lane splitting one way or another. For now, it remains up to the interpretation of public officials and a potentially citable offense.
Penalties for Lane Splitting in North Carolina
Due to the ambiguous nature of North Carolina’s laws on lane splitting, penalties and citations highly depend on the subjective interpretation of law enforcement officers and government officials. You could be cited for reckless driving or another offense and receive a fine or penalty of varying magnitude.
Additionally, if you’re involved in an accident while lane splitting, officials may determine you to be at fault.
Best case, this will drive up your insurance premiums after the insurance company must cover your liability for the accident. Worst case, your insurance policy won’t cover the extent of the damages, and you will have to pay out of your own pocket.
Arguments For and Against Lane Splitting in North Carolina
Supported by the American Motorcyclist Association, many riders in North Carolina argue that lane splitting is both safe and a great way to reduce traffic congestion and pollution. They point to California’s legalization of lane splitting after a UC Berkeley study found that the practice was safe at speeds under 50 mph.
However, there are many people, including government officials, who oppose lane splitting and claim it increases danger on the roadways.
They cite North Carolina Crash Facts, which states that there were 3,516 motorcycle crashes in 2019, resulting in 184 fatalities. They assert that legalizing lane splitting would merely increase these numbers.
The legality of lane splitting in North Carolina is a bit of a gray area, but many legal experts agree that you could be cited for the practice. If you, like many motorcyclists, are tired of this legal ambiguity, get involved with your local civil discussion and encourage your local and state lawmakers to address the issue of lane splitting.