Lane splitting, a controversial maneuver performed by motorcyclists, has been the subject of ongoing debate among lawmakers nationwide. The question of its safety and potential legalization continues to be a point of contention. While several states have recently passed legislation permitting lane splitting, it remains prohibited in Colorado, as well as in most other states. In this article, we’ll delve into the current laws regarding lane splitting in Colorado and explore the potential for future changes. Whether you’re a rider or a driver in the state, your perspective matters.
Understanding Lane Splitting
Lane splitting is a traffic maneuver wherein a motorcyclist navigates between two rows of motor vehicles moving in the same direction. Rather than confining themselves to a single lane, a motorcyclist engaged in lane splitting rides along the demarcation between two lanes of traffic. This isn’t merely for passing other vehicles; it’s a sustained practice. While lane splitting is often used interchangeably with “lane filtering,” the latter typically involves riding along the line between lanes when surrounding traffic is at a standstill, such as at a red light.
Colorado’s Stance on Lane Splitting
As of 2022, the Colorado Department of Transportation explicitly forbids lane sharing or splitting with other vehicles in the state. It is illegal for a motorcyclist to engage in lane splitting or share a lane with a standard passenger vehicle in Colorado. State law also prohibits passing or overtaking a motor vehicle within the same lane. Motorcyclists are required to pass using a separate lane, similar to other vehicles. However, sharing a lane with a fellow motorcyclist is permissible.
If caught lane splitting in Colorado, a motorcyclist may face a traffic infraction, carrying a fine ranging from $15 to $100, depending on the circumstances. Moreover, lane splitting can result in points being added to the motorcyclist’s license, potentially leading to increased insurance rates or even license suspension. If a motorcyclist causes an accident while lane splitting, they could be held civilly liable for damages.
Riding on the Shoulder: Legalities in Colorado
In general, riding on the shoulder is not permitted for motorcyclists in Colorado. Exceptions are made only when road traffic is completely stationary, and even then, it must be on a designated shoulder. Once traffic resumes, the motorcyclist must integrate back into the flow of vehicles. Failing to do so carefully and in accordance with state law may result in a traffic citation.
Debates Surrounding Motorcycle Lane Splitting
Supporters of lane splitting argue that it is a safe and effective means to alleviate traffic congestion and shield motorcyclists from collisions. Allowing motorcyclists to lane split can expedite their passage, reducing both traffic buildup and the likelihood of motorcycle accidents. It also affords a motorcyclist the ability to align with two vehicles, potentially preventing a rear-end collision.
Critics, on the other hand, contend that lane splitting might heighten the risk of accidents on Colorado’s highways. They posit that a motorcyclist is more susceptible to being struck by a vehicle when positioned between two lanes, as the motorcycle could fall within a driver’s blind spot. Additionally, the noise generated by motorcycles in close proximity to a vehicle’s window might startle the driver, potentially leading to an accident. Regardless of which side of the debate one supports, it’s imperative to recognize that riding between lanes of traffic on a motorcycle is not permitted in Colorado and may result in penalties.
Assessing the Safety of Lane Splitting
The alleged safety of lane splitting forms the crux of the controversy in Colorado. In 2015, the University of California, Berkeley released a study advocating for lane splitting as a reasonably safe practice. The study, which analyzed over 6,000 motorcycle accidents, concluded that lane splitting was relatively safe, provided surrounding traffic did not exceed 50 miles per hour, and the motorcyclist did not exceed a speed differential of 15 miles per hour compared to other vehicles.
Thomas Rice, the lead author of the study, emphasized that the difference in speed between the motorcyclist and other drivers was more critical than speed alone in preventing serious injuries. Efforts to narrow speed differentials were deemed sufficient to reasonably avert lane-splitting accidents and related injuries. This study significantly influenced California’s decision to amend its lane-splitting law in 2016.
On the other hand, the Colorado State Patrol cited opposing research suggesting that 50% of motorcyclists in California reported a near collision while lane splitting. The Colorado police agency remains opposed to the practice based in part upon this research.
California’s Influence on Lane-Splitting Legislation
While California was the first state to allow lane splitting, it did not technically legalize the practice. Rather, it clarified the language in the California Vehicle Code section 21658.1 to define, rather than prohibit, lane splitting. Law enforcement in the state typically refrains from penalizing motorcyclists for lane splitting as long as it is done safely and judiciously.
Subsequently, other states, including Arizona, Montana, and Utah, followed suit. Many have proposed bills to permit similar lane-splitting practices. Although some of these bills have been successful, they have generally faced opposition in other states. If you plan on motorcycling outside of Colorado, it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with the specific lane-splitting laws of the state you’ll be riding in, as performing this maneuver in a state where it’s prohibited could result in penalties.
Prospects for Change in Colorado’s Lane-Splitting Law
Since California’s move to make the law neutral, Colorado has only seen one proposed lane-splitting bill. In 2016, the Colorado House Committee rejected a bill introduced by Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt that sought to lift the ban on motorcycles navigating between rows of traffic. The bill’s provisions stipulated that motorcyclists could engage in this practice as long as they did not exceed 15 miles per hour in traffic moving no faster than 5 miles per hour.
While this particular bill did not pass, it does not preclude the possibility of similar lane-splitting laws gaining traction in the future. As ongoing research delves into the impact of lane splitting on motorcycle safety and accident rates, Colorado’s legislators and residents may adopt a different stance. However, as of now, lane splitting on a motorcycle remains prohibited by law in Colorado.
Legal Recourse Following a Lane-Splitting Accident
In the event of an accident involving a lane-splitting motorcyclist, the rider may bear financial responsibility (liability) for the collision. Violating the lane-splitting law could serve as grounds for a negligence claim against the motorcyclist. The doctrine of negligence per se dictates that a party can be deemed negligent if they violated the law, without further evidence required. This means that if a motorcyclist was illegally lane splitting when they caused the accident, they may be held liable for property damage and any resulting injuries.
If you were operating the motorcycle and another driver alleges that you were lane splitting unlawfully, it may be prudent to seek legal representation to defend against potential liability. For instance, if you were temporarily navigating between lanes to pass another vehicle, this might not necessarily constitute negligence. If you find yourself a victim of an accident involving lane splitting in Colorado, our team of motorcycle accident lawyers in Denver is here to assist you.