How to Lane-Split Safely

5 replies [Last post]
Charles Oertel's picture
Joined: 2007/04/14

Points: 1

Adapted from the California Motorcycle Safety Program (comments in italics are added by Charles Oertel):

Lane splitting in a safe and prudent manner is legal.

The term lane splitting, sometimes known as lane sharing, filtering or white-lining, 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.

Motorcyclists who are competent enough to lane split, should follow these general guidelines if choosing to lane split:

  1. Travel at a speed that is no more than 15 kph faster than other traffic:
    1. Danger increases at higher speed differentials.
    2. A speed differential of 15kph allows an alert, competent rider enough time to identify and react to most dangerous situations that can occur.
    3. The greater the speed differential, the less time a rider has to identify and react to a hazard.
    4. This speed differential allows vehicles a chance to see the motorbike, but also prevents the bike from spending too much time in a vehicle's blind spot.
  2. It is not advisable to lane split when traffic flow is at 60kph or faster:
    1. Danger increases as overall speed increases.
    2. At just 30kph, in the 1 or 2 seconds it takes a rider to identify a hazard, that rider will travel approximately 10 to 20 meters before even starting to take evasive action. Actual reaction (braking or swerving) will take additional time and distance.
    3. Braking and stopping distance varies greatly based on a multitude of factors (rider, machine and environment).
    4. As speed increases, crash severity increases.
  3. Typically, it is safer to split between the far-right and second from right lanes than between other lanes:
    1. Other road users are more accustomed to motorcycles splitting between the furthest right lanes.
    2. Avoid splitting in lanes near freeway on-ramps and exits.
    3. 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:
    1. Some lanes are narrower than others, leaving little room to pass safely. If you can't fit, don't split.
    2. Some vehicles are wider than others - it is not advisable to split near wide trucks. If you can't fit, don't split.
    3. Know the limitations of your motorcycle - wide bars, fairing and bags require more space between vehicles. If you can't fit, don't split.
    4. Avoid splitting on unfamiliar roads to avoid surprises such as poor road surfaces.
    5. Seams in the road surface or concrete between lanes can be hazardous if they are wide or uneven.
    6. 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.
    7. Help drivers see you by wearing brightly colored protective gear and using high beams during daylight.
  5. Be alert and anticipate possible movements by other road users:
    1. 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.
    2. Always be prepared to take evasive action if a vehicle changes lanes.
    3. Account for inattentive or distracted drivers.
    4. Riders should not weave back and forth between lanes or ride on top of the line.  Try to stay in the rightmost quarter of the lane, so that you are continually visible in the right-hand mirror of all the cars ahead of you.  Every time you move into the middle of you lane you become invisible to everyone except the car immediately in front of you.
    5. Riders should avoid lingering in blind spots.
    6. Avoid riding near trucks, buses or other large vehicles that have big blind spots, and that hide you from other road users.
    7. Never ride while impaired by drugs, alcohol or fatigue.
    8. Constantly scan for changing conditions.

The Four R's or “Be-Attitudes” of Lane Splitting:

Be Reasonable, be Responsible, be Respectful, be aware of all Roadway and traffic conditions.

  • Be Reasonable means not more than 15kph faster than traffic flow and not over 65kph.
  • Be 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.
  • Be aware Roadways and traffic can be hazardous.
    • uneven road surfaces
    • wide trucks
    • distracted drivers
    • weather conditions
    • curves, and blind rises etc.


These general guidelines are not guaranteed to keep you safe.

Lane splitting should not be performed by inexperienced riders. These guidelines assume 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 crash risk at all times. While it is required by law to wear a helmet, the BMW Motorcycle Club Cape recommends all riders wear full safety gear at all times (boots, protective jacket, pants and gloves).

Risk of getting a ticket:

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 behavior while lane splitting is or was safe and prudent.

When is it NOT OK to split?

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 surfaces, metal grates, 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, RVs, and other wide vehicles.
  • Around or through curves.
  • If you are not fully alert and aware of your surroundings.
  • If you are unable to react to changing conditions instantaneously.
  • If you don't feel comfortable with the situation.

Messages for Other Vehicle Drivers

  1. Lane splitting by motorcycles is not illegal in South Africa when done in a safe and prudent manner.
  2. Motorists should not take it upon themselves to discourage motorcyclists from lane splitting.
  3. Intentionally blocking or impeding a motorcyclist in a way that could cause harm to the rider is illegal.
  4. Opening a vehicle door to impede a motorcycle is illegal.
  5. Never drive while distracted.
  6. You can help keep motorcyclists and all road users safe by:
    1. Checking mirrors and blind spots, especially before changing lanes or turning
    2. Signaling your intentions before changing lanes or merging with traffic
    3. Allowing more following distance, three or four seconds, when behind a motorcycle so the motorcyclist has enough time to maneuver or stop in an emergency

Committee: Webmaster / Ride Captain

Charles Oertel's picture
Joined: 2007/04/14
  1. When a car moves over to let you split, beware - it's a 50/50 chance the driver is actually texting, and you end up gratefully taking the 'gap' only to find it shutting you in as the driver weaves the other way.
  2. Beware of scooters and other motorcycles - they are flickable and not always aware of you.  Give them a wide berth.
  3. At intersections, even if the traffic is backed up and stationary, cross cautiously - it is easy to fail to see that cars in the backed-up traffic have left a gap for others to cross the intersection.
  4. Watch out for other lane-splitters - you are not the only one out there.
  5. When you are at the front of the traffic at a red traffic light, be aware that when the light turns green there may still be someone crossing the intersection at speed from the other side (in South Africa it's almost a given).  Do not just ride into the intersection on a hair-trigger the moment the light changes.

Committee: Webmaster / Ride Captain

dtv's picture
Joined: 2007/11/06

All very good and true,  but: It is not advisable to lane split when traffic flow is at 60kph or faster

Does this mean we have to sit at (say) 100 k/h for many km's until one of the two drivers in cages sleeping (or maybe texting?) next to each other decide to wake up and move as bit faster?  Nie maklik nie....! Sealed

God gave you a gift of 86 400 seconds to-day.  Have you used one to say Thank You?

Charles Oertel's picture
Joined: 2007/04/14

Do not lane-split with your hazard lights on!

I see this from time to time.  Who the hell do you think you are warning the world that you are lane-splitting?  Whoop-de-doo.  Just get on with it - don't make a song and dance.

Hazards are useful if you are stopped in the middle of the road, or want to warn others of a hazard or an emergency stop.  They are spectacularly useless while driving along normally:

  1. Everybody expects you do do something, but you don't because you are just driving along
  2. You cannot indicate, since all your lights are flashing, so nobody knows anything about what you intend to do - all they know is that you are not the brightest bulb in the chandelier.

Committee: Webmaster / Ride Captain

Joined: 2007/06/25

Beware of the girls in Polo's !!

Think before you ink.

Trust is the most valuable asset.

I have the rest of my life to get old.

GeelKameel's picture
Joined: 2007/06/21

Something to be very concious of: ensure that your bike is in low gear when stopped at the line after filtering, so that your engine does not stall when you want to take off. Usually you are inbetween the front cars, so small chance that they will run over you, but it is quite embarrasing Surprised

The modern computer controlled engines does not give any warning (unlike older engines) that it is about to cut out. One moment it is running, next moment perfectly dead, at the speed of a computer descision. Besides having to restart the engine, one also have to coax the gearbox down through all the gears to 1st.

Gear-wise it is advantagous to filter at low speed (i.e. lower gears) because then, when you want to take off and find yourself in the wrong gear, at least you are closer to the gear you actually was supposed to be in.

At speeds above 60km/hr, I do consider slipping inbetween cars alongside each other to be filtering anymore. Then it becomes passing because the gaps behind/front of the cars usually allow me to sneak into/out of a lane. Filtering to me is when you are forced to keep on the white line for many consecutive vehicles.


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