Get to terms with Lane Splitting

Get to terms with Lane Splitting and why motorcycle riders do it.

The term lane splitting, sometimes known as lane sharing or filtering (passing another vehicle in the same lane), refers to the process of a motorcyclist riding between lanes of stopped or slower moving traffic or moving between lanes to the front of traffic stopped at a traffic light.

Should you choose, or believe it to be safe, to run the guantlet, then here are a few guidelines to help you along:

1) Travel at a speed that is no more than 20 km/h faster than other traffic – danger increases at higher speed differentials.

  • A speed differential of 20 km/h or less allows an alert, competent rider enough time to identify and react to most dangerous situations that can occur.
  • The greater the speed differential, the less time a rider has to identify and react to a hazard.

2) It is not advisable to lane split when traffic flow is at 50 km/h or faster – danger increases as overall speed increases.

  • At just 30 km/h, in the 1 or 2 seconds it takes a rider to identify a hazard, that rider will travel approximately 10 to 20 metres before even starting to take evasive action. Actual reaction (braking or swerving), will take additional time and distance.
  • Braking and stopping distance varies greatly based on a multitude of factors (rider, machine and environment).
  • As speed increases, crash severity increases.

3) Typically, it is safer to split between the No. 3 and No. 2 lanes than between other lanes.

  • Other road users are more accustomed to motorcycles splitting between the Far Right (No. 3) and Middle (No. 2) lanes.
  • Avoid splitting in lanes near freeway on-ramps and exits.
  • Avoid splitting lanes when another motorcycle rider is splitting between other nearby lanes as cars may make additional room for one rider and accidentally reduce space for another.

4) Consider the total environment in which you are splitting, including the width of the lanes, size of surrounding vehicles, as well as roadway, weather, and lighting conditions.

  • Some lanes are narrower than others, leaving little room to pass safely. If you can’t fit, don’t split.
  • Some vehicles are wider than others – it is not advisable to split near wide trucks. If you can’t fit, don’t split.
  • Know the limitations of your motorcycle – wide bars, fairing and bags require more space between vehicles. If you can’t fit, don’t split.
  • Avoid splitting on unfamiliar roads to avoid surprises such as poor road surfaces.
  • Seams in the asphalt or concrete between lanes can be dangerous if they are wide or uneven.
  • Poor visibility, due to darkness or weather conditions, makes it difficult for riders to see road hazards and makes it more difficult for drivers to see you.
  • Help drivers see you by wearing brightly coloured protective gear and using high beams during daylight.

5) Be alert and anticipate possible movements by other road users.

  • Be very aware of what the cars around you are doing. If a space, or gap, opens up next to your lane, be prepared react accordingly.
  • Always be prepared to take evasive action if a vehicle changes lanes.
  • Account for inattentive or distracted drivers.
  • Riders should not weave back and forth between lanes or ride on top of the line.
  • Riders should avoid lingering in blind spots.
  • Never ride while impaired by drugs, alcohol or fatigue.
  • Constantly scan for changing conditions.

Lane Splitting

The Four R’s or “Be-Attitudes” of Lane Splitting:
Be Reasonable, be Responsible, be Respectful, be aware of all Roadway and traffic conditions.

  • Reasonable means not more than 20 km/h faster than traffic flow and not over 60 km/h.
  • You are Responsible for your own safety and decisions.
  • Don’t put yourself in dangerous positions.
  • If you can’t fit, don’t split.
  • Be Respectful – sharing the road goes both ways.
  • Don’t rely on loud pipes to keep you safe, loud pipes often startle people and poison the attitude of car drivers toward motorcyclists.
  • Other vehicles are not required to make space for motorcycles to lane split.
  • Roadways and traffic can be hazardous.
  • Uneven road surface
  • Wide trucks
  • Distracted drivers
  • Weather conditions
  • Curves

These general guidelines are not guaranteed to keep you safe. Lane splitting should not be performed by inexperienced riders. These guidelines remands a high level of riding competency and experience.

The recommendations contained here are only general guidelines and cannot cover all possible combinations of situations and variables.

Personal Safety:
Every rider has ultimate responsibility for his or her own decision making and safety. Riders must be conscious of reducing accident risk at all times. South African law requires all motorcycle riders and passengers wear a helmet that complies with the ECE standards.

Risk of getting a fine:
Motorcyclists who lane split are not relieved of the responsibility to obey all existing traffic laws. With respect to possible law enforcement action, keep in mind that it will be up to the discretion of the Law Enforcement Officer to determine if riding behaviour while lane splitting is or was safe and sensible or reckless and dangerous.

You should NOT lane split:

  • If you can’t fit
  • At a toll booth
  • If traffic is moving too fast or unpredictably
  • If dangerous road conditions exist – examples include water or grit on the road, slippery road markings, road construction, uneven road surface, metal grids, etc.
  • If you cannot clearly see a way out of the space you’re going into (for example, if a van or SUV is blocking your view).
  • Between trucks, buses, vehicle pulling trailers or caravans, and other wide vehicles.
  • Around or through curves.
  • If you are not fully alert and aware of your surroundings.
  • If you are unable to immediately react to changing conditions.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable with the situation.

Messages for Other Vehicle Drivers

  1. Lane filtering by motorcycles is not illegal in South Africa when done in a safe and sensible manner and as long as the National Road Traffic Act & Regulations 93 of 1996 are adhered to.
  2. Motorists should not take it upon themselves to discourage motorcyclists from lane splitting.
  3. Intentionally blocking or hindering a motorcyclist in a way that could cause harm to the rider is illegal.
  4. Opening a vehicle door to obstruct a motorcycle is illegal.
  5. You can help keep motorcyclists and all road users safe by:
    • Checking mirrors and blind spots, especially before changing lanes or turning
    • Signalling your intentions before changing lanes or merging with traffic
    • Allowing more following distance when behind a motorcycle so the motorcyclist has enough time to manoeuvre or stop in an emergency

What does the law say?

This topic comes up all the time. It’s completely legal for a motorcycle to pass another vehicle travelling in the same lane and in the same direction. Said vehicle (which includes motorcycles), however, may not travel alongside another vehicle though. Refrain from referring to the annulled Road Traffic Act, 29/89.

National Road Traffic Act 93/96 applies now.

Regulation 298 states – Passing of vehicle (1) Subject to the provisions of sub regulation (2) and (4) and regulation 296, the driver of a self-propelled (emphasis added which includes motorcycles) vehicle intending to pass any other vehicle proceeding in the same direction on a public road shall pass to the right thereof at a safe distance and shall not again drive on the left side of the roadway until safely clear of the vehicle so passed: Provided that, in the circumstances as aforesaid, passing on the left of such vehicle shall be permissible if the person driving the passing vehicle can do so with safety to himself or herself and other traffic or property which is or may be on such road and— (a) (b) (c) (d) (e) the vehicle being passed is turning to its right or the driver thereof has signaled his or her intention of turning to his or her right; such road is a public road in an urban area and— (i) is restricted to vehicles moving in one direction; and (ii) the roadway is of sufficient width for two or more lines of moving vehicles; such road is a public road in an urban area and the roadway is of sufficient width for two or more lines of moving vehicles moving in each direction; the roadway of such road is restricted to vehicles moving in one direction and is divided into traffic lanes by appropriate road traffic signs; or he or she is driving in compliance with the directions of a traffic officer or is driving in traffic which is under the general direction of such officer, and in accordance with such direction: Provided further that in no event shall any passing referred to in paragraph (a), (b), (c) or (d) be done by driving on the shoulders of the roadway or on the verge of the public road concerned. (2) The driver of a vehicle shall not pass other traffic proceeding in the same direction on a public road when approaching— (a) (b) (c) the summit of a rise; a curve; or any other place, where his or her view is so restricted that any such passing could create a hazard in relation to other traffic which might approach from the opposite direction, unless— (i) he or she can do so without encroaching on the right-hand side of the roadway; or (ii) the roadway of such road is restricted to vehicles moving in one direction. (3) The driver of a vehicle on a public road shall, except in the circumstances referred to in the first proviso to sub regulation (1), upon becoming aware of other traffic proceeding in the same direction and wishing to pass his or her vehicle, cause his or her vehicle to travel as near to the left edge of the roadway as is possible, without endangering himself or herself or other traffic or property on the roadway, and shall not accelerate the speed of his or her vehicle until the other vehicle has passed. (4) When about to pass oncoming traffic, the driver of a vehicle on a public road shall ensure that the vehicle driven by him or her does not encroach on the roadway to his or her right in such manner as may obstruct or endanger such oncoming traffic. (5) The driver of a vehicle intending to pass a stationary bus on a public road shall do so with due care for the safety of persons who are approaching or leaving or may approach or leave such bus.

In addition, Regulation 309 (6) (a) states – Persons, other than traffic officers in the performance of their duties, driving motor cycles on a public road, shall drive in single file except in the course of overtaking another motor cycle, and two or more persons driving motor cycles shall not overtake another vehicle at the same time: Provided that where a public road is divided into traffic lanes, each such lane shall, for the purposes of this paragraph, be regarded as a public road.