Is Motorcycle Lane Splitting Legal in New York?



This is a question that pops up often on our website: is lane splitting legal in New York? Let’s take a look at what lane splitting is, what the law says, and what it all means. We’ll try to cover all aspects of this problem, so bear with us till the end, as you might find more things that interest you.

It is very common that, if a motorcycle accident happens, the rider of the motorcycle will be the first one blamed, even before all of the details of the accident are sorted out. But quite often, after some investigations, it is discovered that the blame lies on other motorists, and frequently, lane splitting comes into the discussion.

There are cases, of course, in which the motorcyclist can be seen as the one to be blamed, at least to a certain degree, when an accident happens. Oftentimes, this happens because of a maneuver that is called “lane splitting”, which, in the state of New York, is not considered to be a legal one.

Thankfully, New York is also considered to be a “no-fault” insurance state. That simply means that, as long as you have insurance, you are entitled to get paid for the damages that happened, regardless if you were the person who was responsible for that accident or not, which is good news.


What is lane splitting?

This term is used to refer to when you ride a motorcycle between two lanes of traffic on the right side of the road, or if you are headed in the same direction, but you are not crossing the centerline. Other names for this maneuver are “filtering”, “stripe-riding”, and “white-lining”, depending on who you ask.

A motorcyclist can present the tendency to get into lane-splitting if the traffic is very heavy, in order to move past the congestion of cars and trucks and buses, which are moving really slow, way below the limit speed in a certain area or, in some cases, even worse, as they are standing still.

When dealing with the traffic in New York, lane splitting is highly tempting – it’s like you have a cookie that you are told you can’t eat. Unfortunately, passing cars that are caught in lanes and lanes of traffic is considered to be illegal in New York State. Only California and Utah have made lane splitting legal in their jurisdictions.

Don’t confuse lane splitting with lane sharing, which is what we call when two motorcycles are riding side-by-side on the same lane. Sharing lanes is not explicitly made illegal in the state of New York as the law simply mentions that, as a motorcyclist, you are entitled to make full use of a lane.


The pros and cons of motorcycle lane splitting

California was the first state to make lane-splitting legal, all the way back in 2016, with Utah passing the “lane filtering” law in 2019. According to multiple sources, there are around 15 states that, since the start of the 2010s have considered changing the laws in order to make lane-splitting legal.

Of course, New Yorkers pretty much wish for the same thing to happen there, as well, considering how horrible the traffic can get in the city. A petition sent to the New York City Department of Transportation that was asking for permission to travel between slow-moving lanes as a way of reducing traffic had 1,470 signatures.

This problem has divided people, with some opposing it completely or to a certain degree, while others, especially motorcycle riders, often fully support it, as they wouldn’t get stuck in traffic with the other vehicles, plus they claim that with fewer motorcycles in the congestion, traffic will move, at the very least, a bit faster.

Those who support the lane-splitting claim that if you’ll let motorcycle riders to split lanes with trucks and cars, the traffic is going to be reducer by a lot, while also making it safer for bikers as the chances of them being rear-ended by some drivers who aren’t paying enough attention in the stop-and-go traffic will be lowered by much.

Besides these, we must look at those who oppose this, as well. These people claim that it’s actually even more dangerous for bikers if this bill passes, as they’ll have a higher chance of getting struck by a car that will change lanes all of a sudden. On top of that, they say this may make drivers stuck in traffic startled and annoyed by the motorcycles passing them by.

It’s important to note that the federal government’s Motorcycle Safety Foundation is for lane splitting. Since a motorcycle has a very narrow width, it can pass between the lanes of slow-moving or stopped cars on the road as soon as the lanes become wider, thus letting the motorcyclists get away from the congestion, instead of getting them trapped there, as well.

On top of that, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation claims it was actually proved that if you travel between those lanes of cars on a multiple lane road, the chances of a crash even happening become much slimmer, especially if you compare them to the option of staying in the line with the rest of the cars.

Studies that were commissioned by the Safe Transportation Research & Education Center at the University of California Berkeley are pro lane splitting also, as they also claim the risk of accidents is likely to drop in this situation, compared to the option in which everybody is stuck in traffic.

A report from the Safe Transportation Research & Education Center, also known as SafeTREC, that dates back all the way to 2015, shows that if a motorcyclist splits the lanes, this is usually due to them commuting, which means they didn’t use high speed and were also wearing better helmets than the rest.

The same report mentioned that the severity of injuries that occur as a result of a motorcycle accident is, naturally, as you can imagine, increased as the speed of the motorcycle grows. As a result, the motorcyclists who engage in lane splitting activities are less likely to get hurt if a collision takes place.

Another report by the SafeTREC, this time from 2014, also mentioned that motorcycle riders who engage in lane splitting are less likely to be read-ended, but they are also more likely to rear-end other vehicles, compared to the motorcycle riders that didn’t engage in lane splitting.

When it comes to those to oppose this, the AAA auto club seems to be at the forefront in the fight to stop lane splitting from ever becoming legal. In fact, this club was also the one who managed to defeat similar legislation about this in other states, including in Georgia, Texas, and even Hawaii.

The state relations manager for AAA, Richard Romer, declared that “Motorists who don’t expect to be passed by a vehicle traveling between lanes can side-swipe a motorcycle or turn into its path”, which was supposed to be a solution, we guess, to the lane-splitting situation.


The MIC weights in

The Motorcycle Industry Council, shortened as MIC, which is non-profit, so there is a chance that it would be less subjective in this polemic, has declared that motorcycle riders can practice this, but that they should be able to keep in mind that they must be more alert and more careful when doing this.

Among the guidelines that are pretty much common-sense ones, the MIC has recommended that you should only make the split between the two left-most traffic lanes, which would make the car drivers who are in said lanes learn, with that, that there is a high chance for motorcycles to come that way.

Other suggestions are that lane splitting shouldn’t be done when the traffic is close to the speed limit, plus you shouldn’t try to out-do the cars in the lines, especially if you plan on doing this by going past the speed limit. If there are carpool lanes, use them, if you notice the traffic in that lane is moving with a certain flow since that is actually based on legality.


The motorcycle laws you should know in New York

In order for you to ride a motorcycle in the state of New York, you should have a class MJ or M operator’s license or learner’s permit. The learner’s permit is going to need you to pass a written test and, when you are out there riding, you must be under the supervision of a rider who has a valid motorcycle license.

If you plan to ride a motorcycle while in the state of New York, you must know of the following laws. Some of them are common sense ones and are found in most jurisdictions, but regardless, as long as you are in this state, you should be able to memorize these points, as they are not that hard.

Wearing a helmet while you are on a motorcycle is obligatory for everybody and it should meet the US DOT federal motor vehicle safety standards. Also asked of all riders is eye protection, which should follow the standards that were put in place by the American National Standard Institute. Pretty simple, right?