Is Lane Splitting Legal in Massachusetts?
Lane splitting is a frequent topic of debate in many states. Since California became the first state to remove language barring motorcyclists from lane splitting in its traffic laws in 2016, many other states have attempted to follow suit. Proposed lane-splitting or lane-filtering laws in all other states, however, have so far failed to pass. Lane splitting currently remains illegal in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as of 2020.
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What Is Lane Splitting?
Lane splitting refers to the practice of a motorcycle (or bicycle) riding between two lanes of traffic moving in the same direction. If a motorcyclist lane splits, he or she rides on the white or yellow line between two lanes rather than keeping in one lane or the other. If lane splitting in California, for example, a motorcyclist can ride between lanes of stopped or moving traffic, keeping to the narrow space between two vehicles instead of choosing a lane.
Some states, including Utah, have similar laws that allow lane filtering. Lane filtering generally refers to a motorcycle or bicycle riding between rows of stopped or parked cars, not vehicles that are in motion. A motorcyclist in Utah could filter between two rows of stopped cars at a red light, for instance, to move to the front of the line rather than waiting in traffic. California is currently the only state to explicitly permit motorcyclists to lane split.
Massachusetts Bans Lane Splitting
Lane splitting is not legal in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The state currently abides by the language of Part 1, Title XIV, Chapter 89, section 4A of its General Laws. This statute says that on any road with two or more lanes, a driver or vehicle operator must ride entirely within a single lane. The driver cannot move from the lane until he or she has ascertained that doing so is safe. Motorcyclists cannot pass any other motor vehicles within the same lane or lane split. They must ride single-file when passing and may only ride abreast of one other motorcycle in the same lane.
Like many states, Massachusetts has lawmakers who have considered bills that would legalize lane splitting for motorcyclists. In the 2017-2018 legislative session, the Commonwealth reviewed Bill S.1947, an act that would allow lane splitting in the state. The bill proposed a change to Section 4A of the General Laws: striking out the first paragraph of the statute. If the bill passed, it would replace the first paragraph with one that permits motorcyclists to drive between rows of stopped or moving vehicles if the motorcyclist stays below 50 miles per hour and travels no faster than 15 miles per hour over the speeds of the surrounding vehicles.
How Dangerous Is Lane Splitting?
Lane-splitting remains illegal in almost every state due to one main argument: it is risky for motorcyclists and other road users. Debates over the alleged safety of lane splitting have led to most state lawmakers, including those in the Commonwealth, to continue to shut down proposed bills that would grant motorcyclists the right to ride between lanes. Yet many people affirm lane splitting’s safety if done correctly.
For example, one groundbreaking study by UC Berkeley in 2015 became the driving force behind California lawmakers legalizing lane splitting. Researchers studied hundreds of accidents and concluded lane splitting to be relatively safe if done in traffic that is moving no faster than 50 miles per hour and if the motorcyclist remains 15 miles per hour or less above the speeds of other vehicles. Lane-splitting supporters say that riding between lanes could help prevent rear-end collisions – accidents that can be deadly for vulnerable motorcyclists.
Despite the study, most states remain staunchly against the practice. Arguments against lane splitting often state that riding between rows of vehicles could expose the motorcyclist to the risk of side-swipe accidents or collisions while motorists try to switch lanes. Others say the noise and speed of a motorcycle passing between lanes could be enough to startle surrounding drivers and cause an accident. Regardless of how motorcyclists feel about lane splitting, they cannot lawfully do so in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as of 2020.