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Is Lane Splitting Legal In Washington?

Is lane splitting legal in Washington? We answer that question and everything else you need to know about lane splitting in the state.

evident Editorial Team
September 20, 2023
Seattle skyline, Mount Rainier

While motorcycle riders appreciate the sense of freedom they get on the road, one riding technique that often sparks controversy is "lane splitting."  A question that often comes up: "Is lane splitting legal in Washington?"

In this article, we'll explain what lane splitting is, whether it’s legal in Washington, and other key things motorcyclists and drivers alike should know about the practice. 

Let's begin by clarifying what exactly lane splitting is. 

Key Takeaways

What is Lane Splitting?

Lane splitting is a riding technique in which a motorcycle rider navigates between two lanes of vehicles traveling in the same direction. Lane splitting allows motorcycles to move more efficiently through congested traffic compared to staying in the same lane.

Lane splitting sometimes gets confused with two other maneuvers: lane filtering and lane sharing. Although some people refer to lane filtering and lane splitting interchangeably, they are different maneuvers and are even treated differently under some states’ laws. 

Lane filtering involves moving between traffic at traffic lights or scenarios involving slow or even stopped traffic.  

Meanwhile, lane sharing refers to when more than one motorcycle rides side by side within a lane. This, too, is often treated differently than lane splitting under state traffic laws.

Lane splitting is controversial because while drivers on the road think the maneuver is more likely to increase the chances of a motorcycle accident, some research has suggested that it overall improves road safety. Advocates also note that it can help reduce traffic congestion.

Is Lane Splitting Legal in Washington?

So, can you lane split in Washington? The short answer is no, lane splitting is not legal in Washington. 

The relevant Washington law states, “No person shall operate a motorcycle between lanes of traffic or between adjacent lines or rows of vehicles.”

The only state, thus far, where lane splitting is legal is California. There have been multiple attempts to change Washington law on the matter, but those efforts have failed.

Keep in mind that states sometimes change their laws, and a few states have revisited their lane filtering or lane splitting laws in recent years. (For example, Colorado is considering a law to research the possibility of allowing lane splitting, and Arizona recently passed a law legalizing lane filtering in 2022). 

And Washington has made its own attempts to change the relevant motorcycle laws in the past. But for now, lane splitting is not allowed under Washington law.

What is the Penalty for Lane Splitting in Washington?

hammer, dish, dollar

The penalty for motorcycle lane splitting in Washington typically includes a fine of over $100. 

Lane splitters could be hit with additional citations, though, such as illegal passing or driving on the shoulder. Additionally, more serious citations–and larger fines–could accompany a lane splitting violation if the rider is cited for reckless driving. 

FAQs About Lane Splitting in Washington

What states in the US allow lane splitting?

The only US state that explicitly allows lane splitting is California.

The specifics of lane splitting laws vary by state, and sometimes even by city, so motorcyclists should familiarize themselves with the laws in the states where they plan to ride.

For example, some states--such as Arizona, Utah, and Montana--allow lane filtering in certain circumstances. But California is the only state that allows lane splitting.

Is it legal to lane split in Oregon?

No, lane splitting is not legal in Oregon, but the law did recently change to allow lane filtering in the state. The change specifies that the maneuver is allowed only “when traffic is moving slowly or stopped.”

Can motorcycles ride on the shoulder in Washington state?

No, motorcycles are not allowed to ride on the shoulder in Washington. In fact, the Washington Motorcycle Operator Manual notes this practice is prohibited in the same sentence in which it notes that lane splitting is not allowed. 

Multiple proposals to change the law have been considered, but those proposals did not become law. 

The Final Word on Lane Splitting in Washington

So, can motorcycles split lanes in Washington? No, lane splitting is not legal in Washington.

Keep in mind that laws can change, and while lane splitting is not allowed currently, Washington laws could change, so it's essential to stay up to date. But for now, the maneuver is not allowed in Washington state, despite misconceptions that some riders might have.