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Is Lane Splitting Legal in Washington State?

Colburn Law

Washington State Lane Splitting LawsThe short answer is, no. It is a common sight on Washington highways – motorcycles, zipping between two slow-moving lanes of traffic. So common, in fact, that the topic is often up for debate. Is lane splitting legal in Washington state? If you ride a motorcycle and had a collision while lane splitting, you may still receive some compensation for your injuries. If the other driver acted illegally or negligently and contributed to the accident, the courts may determine the two of you share fault for the accident. Speak with an experienced motorcycle accident attorney to determine if you have a case.

What Is Lane Splitting?

Lane splitting is the practice of navigating a motorcycle between two lanes of slowed or stopped traffic moving in the same direction. Lane splitting allows riders to save time by advancing down the road in heavy traffic situations. Many riders advocate for lane splitting, claiming it helps keep the flow of traffic moving.

In fact, riders have taken to the internet and to the Washington State House to advocate for lane splitting. Similar petitions occurred in California in 2015, leading that state to legalize lane splitting on the heels of a Berkeley study that promoted lane splitting as safe provided traffic was moving slowly or stopped and that motorcycles did not travel more than 15 miles per hour faster than surrounding traffic.

Is Lane Splitting Legal in Washington State?

As recently as January 2019, lawmakers have introduced bills into the Washington State Legislature calling for the legalization of lane splitting. While the current bill is still active, time will tell whether the bill will pass. However, two previous versions failed to pass in 2015 and 2017. Despite support of lane splitting from motorcycle riders, California remains the only state in the union where lane splitting is legal.

The current bill supports lane splitting in traffic conditions with speeds under 25 miles per hour. Motorcyclists may not exceed the speed of the surrounding traffic by more than 10 miles per hour. However, the bill restricts lane splitting to the far left lane, and motorcyclists are calling for a new version of the bill, citing the overall unsafe conditions of the inner shoulder such as increased debris and stopped motor vehicles.

Despite the current debate, lane splitting remains illegal in Washington state. Some riders continue to engage in the practice, but should keep in mind that lane splitting can result in penalties. Until a bill passes, lane splitting is risky, both legally and financially.

What Are the Penalties for Lane Splitting?

The minimum penalty for lane splitting in Washington state is a $136 fine. However, if the rider also engages in other risky driving behaviors, such as reckless driving, illegal passing, driving on the shoulder, or speeding, police may assess additional fines. In particular, driving on the shoulder – proposed for legalization along with lane splitting in 2015 and 2019 – currently results in another $136 fine. If the motorcyclist is carrying a passenger while lane splitting, additional fines for endangering a passenger are likely.

If a motorcyclist has an accident while lane splitting, the rider may incur all or partial fault for the accident. As a result, the rider may not receive full compensation for any injuries received. However, if the other driver acted negligently and caused the accident – such as driving while intoxicated, speeding, or improperly passing – the rider and driver may share fault. As a result, since Washington is a pure comparative negligence state, the rider would still receive compensation for his or her injuries as a percentage of the other driver’s fault. For more information, contact a Seattle personal injury lawyer.