Even though lane splitting is common in many parts of the world, in the United States, it’s up to each state to make its own traffic laws.
This essentially gives every state the authority to decide what drivers can and can’t do. Interestingly, only a small number of states allow lane splitting.
So, Is It Legal in Virginia?
No, lane splitting is not legal in Virginia. You can be stopped and penalized for the practice.
While a few states, like California, expressly allow lane splitting, many states simply do not address the specific practice at all, requiring the interpretation of other parts of the code to determine its legality.
However, Virginia expressly prohibits lane splitting in its legal code, section 46.2-857:
A person shall be guilty of reckless driving who drives any motor vehicle so as to be abreast of another vehicle in a lane designed for one vehicle, or drives any motor vehicle so as to travel abreast of any other vehicle traveling in a lane designed for one vehicle.
In other words, if you lane split, you have to be abreast of another car in the same lane, so you’d be guilty of reckless driving.
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.
Although the code is very specific about prohibiting lane splitting, the exact same section makes it clear that lane sharing is legal in Virginia. It goes on to read:
Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit two two-wheeled motorcycles from traveling abreast while traveling in a lane designated for one vehicle.
In other words, up to two motorcycles may share a lane, but you can’t ride beside a car.
Future of Lane Splitting in Virginia
The areas of Virginia in the Washington, D.C., metro area are infamous for their heavy traffic, so it’s no surprise that a lot of riders would like to see lane splitting legalized in the state.
They may soon get their wish since lawmakers proposed a bill to change the code in January 2022. It would legalize lane splitting in traffic moving 10 mph or less.
Currently, the bill is in the Committee on Transportation.
Penalties for Lane Splitting in Virginia
According to the law, lane splitting is considered reckless driving in Virginia. Reckless driving can be treated as a criminal offense. It is a Class One misdemeanor and may come with a fine of up to $2,500, up to one year in prison, and suspension of your license. Authorities may choose to treat the infraction as a traffic violation or minimize these penalties, but needless to say, it carries serious consequences.
Additionally, since lane splitting constitutes an illegal traffic maneuver, you will likely be at fault and, therefore, liable if it results in an accident.
Arguments For and Against Lane Splitting in Virginia
Supported by the American Motorcyclist Association, many riders in Virginia 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 point to the fact that in 2022, over 2,000 motorcyclists crashed in Virginia, resulting in 115 fatalities. They suggest that lane splitting would increase this number.
Virginia is one of the toughest states when it comes to lane splitting. The state code specifically prohibits it and classifies it as reckless driving, a misdemeanor that can carry serious penalties.
On the other hand, a bill is currently under consideration to legalize lane splitting, so it may be allowed in the near future. In the meantime, it’s best to avoid the practice to minimize fines and liability.