What You Need to Know About Lane Splitting in Washington
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What You Need to Know About Lane Splitting in Washington

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Posted on March 31, 2023

The slim design and easily maneuverable format of a motorcycle make it tempting for riders to bypass slow or stalled traffic by weaving between slow-moving cars or “lane-splitting.” While California allows motorcycle riders to share lanes with slow or stalled vehicles in order to pass them, this practice is not currently allowed in any other state, including Washington. However, there have been some updates on Washington’s lane-splitting laws that motorcyclists in the Evergreen State should be aware of before they hit the open road on any of the state’s scenic Pacific Northwest motorcycle routes, loops, highways, and byways.

What is Lane-Splitting?

While most people familiar with the term “lane-splitting” think of motorcycles, the term refers to either motorcycle riders or cyclists who maneuver past slower traffic by riding in the narrow spaces between lanes of traffic moving in the same direction. This practice is also sometimes called “white-lining.” There are several reasons a motorcyclist might engage in lane-splitting, and it isn’t always just to pass slow traffic and get where they want to go a little faster. Some riders believe it’s a safety risk to remain in a lane in bumper-to-bumper slow-moving traffic where they could easily be overlooked and rear-ended. Also, many motorcycles overheat when idling in stalled traffic for long periods of time.

Lane-splitting is not to be confused with the practice of “lane-sharing” which refers to two motorcycles occupying a lane by riding side-by-side.

Why Isn’t Lane-Splitting Legal in Washington?

Lane-splitting is legal in California—with the caveat that motorcyclists lane-split only when traffic slows to 40mph or below, and that riders only travel ten miles per hour faster than the slow traffic around them. Lane-splitting commonly becomes a subject of confusion and debate when California riders venture up the west coast and into Washington. 

Back in 2019, Washington legislators attempted to pass a bill legalizing lane-splitting in Washington, which would have made it the second U.S. state to adopt the practice. The bill did not pass as it was initially written which followed California’s model. Importantly, however, a reform bill was passed in 2019 that allowed motorcyclists to lane-split only on the far left side of the left lane and only to pass slow or stalled vehicles. This type of lane-splitting has been legal in Washington since 2019.

Lane-Splitting and Washington’s Comparative Negligence Law

If a motorcyclist in Washington engages in lane-splitting in any way other than to pass significantly slow or stalled traffic on the far left side of the left lane and an accident occurs, they are likely to be found at fault and liable for the accident, meaning their insurance policy will have to pay out on personal injury and property damage claims for the accident victims. According to the state’s comparative negligence system, a motorcyclist may still recover some compensation for damages if the other party is found to be even partly at fault, for instance, if they were speeding, failed to signal, or otherwise contributed to the accident.

If you were involved in an accident and have questions about lane-splitting and accident liability, a Kent motorcycle accident attorney can help.