Lane Splitting in Florida: Is it Legal?
Is Lane Splitting Legal in Florida?
As a Florida motorcycle accident lawyer, I can tell you that I often see motorcycle riders seriously injured because other drivers aren’t paying enough attention to them until it’s too late. This article explains a maneuver that some motorcyclists engage in, lane-splitting, which can lead to a lot of pain and suffering in Florida.
Lane Splitting Defined
- Lane splitting is when a motorcyclist rides between cars or lanes, in effect splitting the designated lanes and creating a new one. Motorcyclists are often tempted to engage in lane splitting because it can save them a lot of time, and because the maneuverability of their bikes makes it possible.
- Lane splitting is against the law in Florida and in most other states, but that doesn’t prevent you from making a personal injury claim if you’re injured while lane splitting. However, the fact that you were lane splitting will likely mean you are found to be at least partially at fault in the accident, which will result in you recovering less money for your injuries.
- Lane splitting is a hotly debated topic, with proponents and detractors focusing on issues of safety and efficiency. Various research groups have tried to quantify the pros and cons of lane splitting, which is difficult since it is illegal in most states. The studies often focus on whether legalizing lane splitting for motorcycles results in a decrease in rear-end accidents involving motorcycles. The thinking here is that if motorcycles can engage in lane splitting, they will be less likely to be rear-ended by cars in stop-and-go traffic situations.
- For instance, one study found that lane-splitting riders in California were slightly less likely to be rear-ended than non-lane-splitting riders. The same study also found that the severity of injuries incurred by riders while lane-splitting is less than in other situations, especially if the rider is going less than 50 mile per hour and not going more than 15 miles per hour faster than the cars it is passing. Another study found no statistical difference in accidents where lane-splitting was legal.
- Another term that is used is “lane-filtering.” This is where lane-splitting is done when all the other traffic is completely stopped. It’s considered less dangerous than lane-splitting around moving traffic. Lane-filtering is legal in some states, like Utah, where lane-splitting is still illegal.
- Proponents of lane-splitting also argue that it’s more efficient and saves energy, since all the motorcycles are slowed down in congested traffic. However, studies have found that this saving is negligible since the number of motorcyclists on U.S. roads is a low percentage of total motorists.
Lane Splitting Law in Florida: Vehicle Code 316.209
FL Vehicle Code 316.209 - Operating motorcycles on roadways laned for traffic.
Florida statute 316.209 is where the Florida law on motorcycle lane-splitting is spelled out. The key points of the law are the following:
- Motorcycles have the full use of a lane. Other vehicles are not allowed to infringe upon that right by riding in the motorcyclist’s space in a lane. An exception is that two motorcycles can ride alongside each other in the same lane.
- A motorcycle cannot pass another vehicle within that other vehicle’s lane.
- A motorcycle cannot be driven between lanes of traffic or between lines or rows of vehicles. This basically means that lane-splitting is not allowed.
- Motorcycles can be driven two abreast in a lane, but no more than two motorcycles next to each other in a lane.
- Police officers or firefighters do not have to abide by these lane-splitting rules while performing of their official duties.
- A violation of these lane-splitting rules is a noncriminal traffic infraction. It is punishable as a moving violation as provided in chapter 318.
Lane Splitting vs. Lane Sharing
Lane sharing is when two motorcycles occupy the same lane side-by-side. This is legal in Florida, but only with two motorcycles side-by-side. Any more than two would be a violation of the statute.
Why California Legalized Lane Splitting
- Florida, like many states, has debated whether to legalize lane splitting for a long time. The answer in Florida is still that lane-splitting is illegal. If you’re in a motorcycle accident while you were lane-splitting, you will have to overcome the presumption that you were at fault in causing the accident. Since Florida is a comparative negligence state, you can still argue that the other drivers contributed to the accident, but it will be harder to recover all your damages if you were lane-splitting.
- California is one of the only states to allow lane-splitting. They codified their law in 2017. However, even though it is legal to lane-split in California, motorcyclists there are still governed by the overarching duty to exercise reasonable caution when driving and lane-splitting. So, they could still be found to be at fault in causing an accident while lane-splitting.
What are the benefits of Lane Splitting?
Alleviates Traffic Congestion
By allowing motorcyclists to move between lanes on highly congested roads, there will be fewer vehicles stuck in the congested traffic. Motorcycles are very maneuverable, so motorcyclists can make use of that fact to move between the lanes of traffic that is stopped or going slowly.
Stop-and-go traffic results in higher fuel emissions per mile driven than when traffic is travelling at higher speeds. So, anything that reduces the number of miles travelled in heavily congested stop-and-go conditions will result in less fuel emissions and pollution. Thus, if motorcycles can lane-split, they will have lower fuel emissions released into the air.
Motorcycle Rider Safety
Proponents of lane-splitting argue that motorcyclists are safer when they are allowed to lane-split. That’s probably because being rear-ended is much more likely for a motorcyclist in congested traffic than being injured while lane-splitting. If riders can move through traffic by lane-splitting, they will not be in the situations that lead to being rear-ended nearly as often.
A large study from the University of California at Berkeley found some other interesting facts that argue in favor of legalizing lane-splitting. The study found that lane-splitting riders were significantly less likely to be injured than riders who didn’t lane-split. For instance, injuries caused while lane-splitting only included head injury in 9% of the cases, versus 17% of injuries from other kinds of motorcycle wrecks.
However, the study also found that the benefits of lane-splitting to rider safety only existed when the surrounding traffic is moving less than 50 miles per hour and when the motorcyclist is not exceeded the speed of surrounding traffic by more than 15 mph.
Dangers of Lane Splitting
When you ride your motorcycle between other vehicles you will be getting much closer to them than you would in normal driving maneuvers. There is not enough space between cars to give you much room for error. Cars are unlikely to be aware of you before it’s too late. If a car decides to switch lanes right when you are passing it between lanes, then you won’t have any time or space to avoid being sideswiped.
The cars will also have trouble even knowing you are there passing them until it’s too late. Maybe in certain parts of California where lane-splitting is legal and frequent, the cars and trucks will be thinking that they should be aware of lane-splitting motorcyclists. But otherwise, those car and truck drivers are unlikely to be thinking about this when they change lanes or swerve.
In both cases, the other drivers may not even be able to see you when you lane-split. That’s because they have blind spots around their cars where they won’t be able to see you. By lane-splitting, you are moving right into those blind spots which are right next to the rear sides of the car. The worst blind spot is the back right side of a car or truck. In that place they can’t see you at all through their mirrors.
Lane-splitting also puts you at the mercy of unpredictable drivers. That’s because lane-splitting causes you to come so close to their vehicles and to actually occupy their lane beside them. You can’t assume that these other drivers are as skillful or careful as you are. If they do some unpredictable move, or if they’re drifting due to distractions like being on the phone or adjusting their music, then you may pay the price. If you’re moving on the lane line between two cars, you don’t have much space to maneuver out of danger in a split second.
Most drivers are not thinking about lane-splitting motorcycles when they’re in heavy congestion. They won’t anticipate your lane-splitting until it’s too late.
You might also encounter some road hazard like a pothole or debris on the road. When you’re trapped in the narrow space between two other vehicles, you won’t have the extra room you need to avoid the hazard.
Higher Risk of Injury
So far, the studies about the risk of lane-splitting are inconclusive. There haven’t been many studies and the ones that have been done are limited to places like California or Europe where lane-splitting is legal. Those studies can’t be compared to states where it is illegal very easily because other factors in those states will also affect overall motorcyclist safety.
The one major study, cited above, from UC Berkeley found that lane-splitting riders are less likely to be injured in rear-end collisions and less likely to suffer certain kinds of serious head injuries. However, that study also found different behaviors, like helmet wearing, between lane-splitting and non-lane-splitting riders, which might also affect these results.
Lane-splitting is certainly a risky behavior that can lead to accidents and serious injuries. If done with skill in places where it is legal, it might actually make the driver safer overall by cutting down on the chances of being rear-ended. But the jury is still out on this one.
What Happens if I Had an Accident While Lane Splitting?
Your biggest problem if you’ve been injured in an accident while lane splitting is that you are likely to be found at fault in the accident. That’s because lane-splitting is illegal in Florida and since you broke that law there will be a presumption that you were at fault in causing the accident. However, that presumption is not final. The other driver may have also been doing something dangerous that helped cause the accident. You will need the help of an experienced motorcycle accident attorney to help make the case to your insurer or the court that the other party was largely at fault in causing the accident. If successful in making that argument, then you can still recover money for your injuries and losses.
Florida’s No Fault State Law won’t be of any help for you if you have an accident while lane splitting. That’s because the No Fault Law (PIP: Personal Injury Protection) doesn’t apply to motorcycles in Florida.
Familiarize yourself with other motorcycle accident laws in Florida so you can better understand situations that affect who was at fault in an accident. If you’re going to ride your bike in Florida, it pays to know all the laws governing riding.
Finally, if you have been in an accident involving a motorcycle then you really should contact a qualified Gainesville motorcycle accident lawyer to help you understand your rights and help you get the compensation you deserve. Motorcycle accidents often result in serious injuries, and you are going to need help in getting full compensation for your injuries, lost wages, pain and suffering.