When you drive a motorcycle between traffic lanes, you are committing a 2-point moving violation called “driving between lanes”. New York City police officers issue many tickets for this type of offense each year.
Motorcyclists engage in this maneuver to weave through traffic. While it may be effective for getting around, it is very dangerous to drive between lanes. A motorist could change lanes into you, a parked driver could open his or her driver’s side door and hit you (or you hit it), or a motorist could drift within his or her lane and strike you. Motorcyclists driving between lanes are often traveling within the blind spots of nearby motorists.
While this ticket is usually issued to motorcyclists, it is also issued to those driving scooters, Vespas and other two-wheeled vehicles.
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- New York Drivers Reach for the Tape (nytimes.com)
Lot’s of emotions expressed here on behalf of motorcyclists maligning auto drivers and claiming unique considerations for them are warranted.
One set of similar rules for autos and bikes alike makes the most sense for all to get along on hectic roads safely. Inaccurate reference to the Holt Report (the report does not reference lane splitting) is grasping at straws arguing for special preferences for bikes.
By the way, there is horrendous behavior by both auto and bike drivers alike, this is not a reason to differentiate road rules either.
Thanks for sharing your considered and balanced thoughts on this issue.
The assumption made in the ‘its unsafe’ argument is that car drivers are unaware. This is true, they are unaware. The problem from what I can tell is that car drivers are not educated well in the US. Western Europe provides an incredible example of car driver ‘skills’. While being a competitive cyclist in Belgium / the Netherlands, car drivers would panic if they stopped even inches into a bike lane. They would immediately reverse their cars. They learn to open their car doors with their opposite hand, so you are encouraged to turn and look over your shoulder before opening the door. In France, when there was traffic on a single lane two-way street, cars would obediently move to the right and let motorcyclists pass as they drove in the center of the road (but on the correct side, of course). The motorcyclists would kick out their right leg as a ‘thank you’ (since your right hand is busy with the throttle). So, I’d say “American car driver culture is the problem”. Can you see any of these above practices being accepted into American self-centered car culture? Americans in cars don’t give a f**k. Again, in Western Europe, you don’t sit in the passing lane like we do either. So, fix the unsafe car practices we’ve accepted as the norm!
Interesting points about the cultural differences here and in Europe. Shifting this culture here would be difficult but worthwhile (especially with the success of bicycle-sharing programs throughout the country).
This law is flawed due to the fact that it is based off of biased assumptions that lead to ignorant arguments. Although car drivers are in the majority, laws should be fair and equal to all individuals who use the road and are affected by said laws. You stated that “… it is very dangerous to drive between lanes.” That is a false statement. As drivers and riders, we face many obstacles during the course of our trips no matter what our vehicle of choice is. You stated, “A motorist could change lanes into you, a parked driver could open his or her driver’s side door and hit you …” You were correct about this, but these obstacles aren’t exclusive to motorcyclists, as it may be an issue for a car driver as well. Being behind a car limits riders’ perspective of the road and what drivers’ intentions are, as opposed to being on the far right/left of the lane, where you can see the driver’s head movements through the side-view mirror and also the front wheel of the vehicle. I’ve been riding a bicycle through NYC for over a year and I always split lanes. There are proper ways for this to be done. For instance, you mentioned that “… a motorist could drift within his or her lane and strike you.” You are absolutely correct, but there are many ways to prevent this! On a motorcycle it is easier to prevent due to the noise coming from the exhaust, which the driver will hear, and the headlight, which can be quickly flashed at the side-view mirror to indicate that you are beside the driver. As a cyclist in the city that never sleeps, being “doored” is a big concern, so when riding by a line of parked cars I always give them door room, and if I am forced to get close I’ll simply lower my speed. Motorcyclists are able to take the same safety measures to avoid these accidents. You also mentioned that blind spots are an issue, which is true for everyone on the road and sidewalk, but it is common sense not to stay in a driver’s blind spot and either way on a motorcycle you will be heard before you’re seen the majority of the time. Lane-splitting needs to be viewed from a more balanced perspective. Drivers say it’s dangerous, but I bet they have never even touched a throttle.
Thanks for sharing your lengthy thoughts about the legality of motorcyclists driving between lanes.
You raise some interest points.
For the over all faster flow of traffic , less over heating equaling to less blocked traffic ( AT LEAST ) in heavy stop and go traffic ,and not to mention less danger of bikes being rear ended with no protection ,the ONLY REASEN TO NOT allow lane splitting (at stand still on expressways and the city streets at no more than 10 mph ) ARE those car drivers who just don’t like the fact that your getting through traffic and they are NOT ! My opinion is that’s MUCH to do with it .what else could it be ? Tom Collins Memphis Tn .
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on lane splitting. I would guess that the NY DMV would argue that it is a dangerous practice.
Not only can the motorcycle overheat if your stuck in traffic, you can overheat, get a heat stroke if your not moving. For safety try and keep the bike moving and limit the amount of time that your stopped on your bike.
Jason T Wagner,
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this issue.
I agree that aggressive lane-splitting is dangerous but I also think driving aggressively in a lane is dangerous, therefore your argument is pretty invalid. There has been studies indicating that lane-splitting in traffic is safer for than sitting in traffic, but you still make a blanket statement that lane-splitting is dangerous. Lane-splitting isn’t dangerous, aggressive riding is dangerous, whether that involves lane-splitting or not.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts about lane splitting. You are not the first to share this view.
California DOT just commission as study and they found that lane splitting in traffic decreases accidents and injury. So I would disagree with Mr. Weiss’s comments above as the data do not support this. California has repealed their lane splitting laws. https://www.cycleworld.com/2015/06/02/ama-study-finds-lane-splitting-increases-rider-saftey/
Thanks for sharing this interesting study. It certainly makes interesting findings (listed below) and causes one to think of the issue differently. I am still am not convinced that this practice is safe in all instances but can envision some in which it is. For instance, on a highway in dead stopped traffic when the motorcyclist is going very slowly. The risk of someone opening a door or changing lanes is low in such instances. However, in regularly moving traffic, it still seems very dangerous to me.
*Lane-splitting is safe if done in traffic moving at 50 mph or less, and if motorcyclists do not exceed the speed of other vehicles by more than 15 mph
*69 percent of lane-splitting motorcyclists were exceeding the traffic speed by 15 mph or less speed differentials up to 15 mph were not associated with changes in the frequency of injury
*Compared to riders who were not splitting lanes, lane-splitting motorcyclists were markedly less likely to suffer head injury (9 percent vs. 17 percent), torso injury (19 percent vs. 29 percent) or fatal injury (1.2 percent vs. 3 percent)
*Lane-splitting riders were significantly less likely to be rear-ended than non-lane-splitting riders (2.6 percent vs. 4.6 percent)
*Lane-splitting motorcyclists were more likely to be wearing a full-face helmet than other motorcyclists (81 percent vs. 67 percent)
*Compared to other motorcyclists, lane-splitting riders were more often riding on weekdays and during commuting hours, were using better helmets and were traveling at slower speeds;
*Lane-splitting riders were less likely to have been using alcohol.
One day when I was riding to work, which is my daily routine. I was approaching a red light on a three lane boulevard. with two cars in front of me. I passed two cars on left side to get to the front, as soon as I get to the front, a policeman on the right side of the road asked me to pull over. As a law abiding motorist, I went to the right side in the front of a police car.
The cop told me “I cannot do that”. I told him as far as I can remember; I was not breaking any laws. The cop said “you have to treat your bike as a car. I told him “I know that officer, but what I just did was motorcycle filtering” and I even said that I went to a motorcycle safety class to enhance my knowledge in riding safely. “Well you are practicing it wrong” he replied. Then he threatened me to put me in jail with my explanation.
He asked for my license and registration and went to the police car. Then I called my job to let them know that I’m going to be late because of what’s happening.
When he got back with me, he told me that I was passing 10 cars before I got in the front. I said, “Officer, there were only 2 cars and it was on a red light where all cars are stopped”. He told me “I know you motorist pull in the front so when it turns green, you all do your stunts”. I told him “officer, I am going to work and I have an old 1973 350cc bike, I can’t even lift the front wheel, how can I do stunts with it?” then he said “do you want me to put you in jail and confiscate your bike?” I didn’t say anymore. “You might be lucky yesterday, but not today” he added.
He handed me the tickets and gave me back my license and registration. He told me not to worry because there will be no points and I can plead not guilty.
He gave me 5 tickets.
1. improper passing
2. disobeying traffic device
3. mc between lanes
4. insufficient turn signal
5. passed on right = only this ticket has my information
Out of 5 tickets, only 1 ticket has my information.
These five tickets carry together 12 NY points and, therefore, you MUST plead not guilty. This is the only way to possibly avoid points, save money and minimize the chance that your license is suspended.
I don’t see the big deal for motorcyclist to lane split, as long as they are not zooming in between lanes at crazy speeds it is safe, also having the training in motorcycle school helps alot. People who drive cars should stop complaining, you have the comfort of automatic transmission with AC/Heater, motorcyclists have manual transmission and have to constantly shift on stop and go traffic and on top of that have to deal with hot summer heat or cold weather of fall/winter.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts. The only way to get this changed is to lobby your legislators (although in my opinion this is a good law that is needed for the safety of motorcyclists).
I got a ticket for “Driving between lanes” on 4/24/15, how much would representation cost for this? Hypothetical situation: I came around stopped traffic on the far left, riding over yellow stripes and came to a stop at a red light. Do I have grounds to win in court because I was not technically “riding between lanes” (1252c), but was to the far right of a lane like a shoulder which would be a different violation? Thank you for your time.
That defense may work but there may be other things that can also help. This ticket carries only 2 points so it is not a big deal if you have an otherwise clean record.
There’s actually a great article on lane sharing in Motorcycle Cruiser magazine that interviews Harry Hurt- the author of the most comprehensive report on motorcycle safety and a researcher at USC. If you believe that motorcyclists should be required to wear helmets, it’s probably because of statistics from Hurt’s studies, first compiled 30 years ago.
Harry Hurt does a good job of explaining his reasoning and research for why lane sharing is very safe in the article:
Lane sharing is legal in California as well as most of Europe and Hurt claims that it’s safe at lower speeds in California. That said, it may not make as much sense to make it legal in New York. The roads are a lot older and lanes tend to be narrower, but worst of all, New York and New Jersey car drivers are some of the worst in the country.
I think that if lane sharing were to become legal at low (running or walking) speeds on roads with wider lanes, it could be done relatively safely and help EVERYONE get there faster. If this were to pass, it might be irritating to see someone on a motorcycle lane split past you, but you need to remember that another guy 1000 feet ahead of you is going to give up his spot to lane split, too- allowing you to move forward a little faster.
Motorcycle, your logic is flawed because motorcyclists have more than enough room to fit in with the flow of traffic. It’s the arrogance of many motorcycle drivers that motivates them to weave in and out of traffic because they think they can, but that doesn’t make it right to do so. They don’t need their own lane and all they need is to slow down and stop trying to outrun everyone else on their crotch rockets.
You cant blame them for driving between cars, they aren’t given a 3rd lane..
Motorcycle Transport, with all due respect, they have the same number of lanes available to them as all other motor vehicles.
Aside from this problem, I am really annoyed with what I call “crotch rocket jockies” who pop wheelies on their sportss bikes and think they’re Evil Knieval on the public roadways. If I had a dollar for every reckless fool on one of these sports bikes who was acting in a reckless manner and then ended up taking a spill and was rushed to the ER, I’d be a very wealthy man. Being on a motorcycle is not an excuse to drive in between lanes or pop wheelies. It’s a motor vehicle, not a BMX bike!
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I understand that this is against the law in NY and I respect that.
I also acknowledge that its dangerous to ride between lanes if the traffic is moving. However, if its stationary it is another matter.
By moving between lanes of stationary traffic slowly, the risks are minimal – you watch for doors (look at rear view mirrors of cars that you approach to see if the driver is in the car) and for pedestrians and because you are moving slowly, there is plenty of time to stop.
These laws don’t exist in Europe and the scooter/motorcycle population is many times larger than here.
We need more motorcycles and Vespas in the city – for the sake of traffic flow and the environment – unless these outmoded laws are changed this wont happen.
John, I agree with you that we need more motorcycles and Vespas in NYC. Perhaps, a dedicated lane for such vehicles will encourage their use and avoid the necessity of traveling between lanes. The bicycle lanes are working so why not motorcycle/Vespa lanes?
In any event, no matter how safe you do it, driving between lanes is still a ticket-able offense in NYC and officers need to write tickets every day.
Thanks Diane for the additional info. Diane owns Ride MSS motorcycle school and is an avid bike rider.
Along with obeying NY traffic law, it is also important to take a course or lessons on motorcycle riding in order to further reduce the chance of an accident. In accordance with the “Hurt Report”, most motorcycle accidents occur as slow speeds, at intersections, and happened to riders that had no proper training.
Check it out: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurt_Report
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