While lane splitting is common in many countries worldwide, the United States leaves traffic laws in the hands of each state.
This means 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 Washington?
No, lane splitting is not legal in Washington. 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, Washington is an exception in that its legal code specifically prohibits it. In fact, Washington has one of the clearest laws regarding lane splitting. Section 46.61.608(3) states:
No person shall operate a motorcycle between lanes of traffic or between adjacent lines or rows of vehicles.
Yeah, that’s pretty clear. Lane splitting is illegal in Washington State.
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.
Luckily, the Washington code is just as clear about lane sharing as it is about lane splitting, and in this case, it’s legal. Subsection 4 of the same law states:
Motorcycles shall not be operated more than two abreast in a single lane.
So there you have it. Lane splitting is illegal, but two motorcycles may share a lane in Washington State.
Future of Lane Splitting in Washington
Once a mostly rural state, growth in urban areas like Seattle and Spokane has put strains on motor vehicle infrastructure and increased traffic in these areas. Many motorcyclists would like to see lane splitting legalized to reduce traffic congestion and improve safety in stop-and-go conditions.
In fact, state legislators have introduced bills multiple times to legalize lane splitting, but they haven’t passed. It’s likely that pro-motorcycle politicians will continue to push the issue, but it’s hard to say when, if ever, it will become legal.
Penalties for Lane Splitting in Washington
Because of confusion about the failed bills to legalize lane splitting, a lot of riders have started doing it around the state. As a result, the police have begun cracking down. As a traffic infraction, you’re likely to face a fine of $136 if pulled over for lane splitting. If it was particularly egregious or dangerous, you may face additional fines or penalties for reckless driving.
Additionally, since lane splitting constitutes an illegal traffic maneuver, you’ll likely be at fault and therefore liable if an accident results. Best case, this will drive up your insurance premiums after the insurance company covers your liability for the accident. Worst case, your insurance policy won’t cover the extent of the damages, and you’ll have to pay out of your own pocket.
Arguments For and Against Lane Splitting in Washington
Advocates for legalizing lane splitting in Washington claim that it’s safe and reduces traffic congestion.
In fact, Larry Walker of the Washington Road Riders Association argued in front of the state legislature that lane splitting would save lives by helping motorcyclists avoid being rear-ended. Brian Lange from ABATE of Washington also pointed out that in places where statistics account for it, lane splitting is rarely involved in accidents.
However, many people, including government officials like Shelly Baldwin of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, disagree. They claim that rear-ending in heavy traffic is not a serious issue for motorcycle riders and lane splitting would only lead to more crashes.
Due to numerous attempts to legalize lane splitting in the state, many riders in Washington mistakenly believe it’s legal. However, the law is very clear. Lane splitting is illegal in Washington and punishable by a traffic fine and potentially more serious penalties. It’s best to avoid the practice and stay on the right side of the law.