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Is Lane Splitting Legal in Colorado?

July 12, 2019

Lane splitting is a maneuver performed by motorcyclists. It is a controversial subject among lawmakers throughout the nation, who debate about whether or not it is safe and should be legalized. Although more states have passed legislation to permit lane splitting in recent years, it remains against the law in Colorado and most states. Get the details on the current and potential future lane-splitting laws in Colorado. Then, voice your opinion as a rider or driver in the state.

Is Lane Splitting Legal in Colorado?

What Is Lane Splitting?

Lane splitting is a traffic maneuver in which a motorcyclist drives between two rows of motor vehicles traveling in the same direction. Rather than keeping only to one lane, a motorcycle that lane splits drives on the line between two lanes of traffic. This is done for an extended period of time – not only to pass or overtake another vehicle. Lane splitting is often used synonymously with lane filtering, although filtering typically means riding on the line between lanes when surrounding traffic is stopped at a red light.

Colorado’s Lane-Splitting Law

As of 2022, the Colorado Department of Transportation explicitly prohibits lane sharing or splitting with vehicles in the state. It is against the law for a motorcyclist to lane split or share a lane with a standard passenger vehicle in Colorado. State law also bans passing or overtaking a motor vehicle in the same lane as the vehicle. Motorcyclists must pass using a separate lane, like other vehicles. It is legal, however, to share a lane with a fellow motorcyclist.

If caught lane splitting in Colorado, a motorcyclist could face a traffic infraction. The penalty for lane splitting is a fine from $15 to $100, depending on the situation. Lane splitting could also add points to a motorcyclist’s license, which in turn could increase insurance rates or lead to license suspension. If a motorcyclist causes an accident while lane splitting, he or she could face civil liability for damages.

Can Motorcycles Ride on the Shoulder in Colorado?

Generally, no. Motorcyclists are only legally allowed to ride on a shoulder in Colorado when road traffic is completely stopped, and only on a designated shoulder. When road traffic begins to move again, a motorcycle rider must resume riding among other vehicles. If not done carefully, prudently and in accordance with state law, riding on a shoulder in Colorado can result in a traffic ticket given to the motorcyclist.

Arguments For and Against Motorcycle Lane Splitting

Supporters of lane splitting say it is a safe and effective way to reduce traffic congestion and protect motorcyclists from collisions. Allowing motorcyclists to lane split can get them off of the roads faster, reducing traffic and the number of opportunities for motorcycle accidents. It can also allow a motorcyclist to avoid being rear-ended by a car by pulling even with two vehicles, rather than having to wait in between them.

Those against lane splitting believe it could increase the risk of accidents on Colorado’s highways. Arguments say that a motorcyclist is at a higher risk of being struck by a vehicle when riding between two lanes, as the motorcycle can be in a driver’s blind spot. Loud motorcycles right next to a driver’s window could also startle the driver, potentially causing a crash. No matter which side of the debate you are on, you cannot ride between lanes of traffic on a motorcycle in Colorado. Doing so could result in a traffic infraction and fines.

Is Lane Splitting Safe?

The alleged safety of lane splitting is the root cause of the controversy surrounding this practice in Colorado. In 2015, the University of California at Berkeley published a study that promoted lane splitting as a reasonably safe practice. Analyses of over 6,000 motorcycle accidents found lane splitting to be relatively safe, as long as surrounding traffic does not exceed 50 miles per hour and the motorcyclist does not ride more than 15 miles per hour faster than other vehicles.

The lead author of the study, Thomas Rice, states the difference in speed between other drivers and the motorcyclist was more important than speed alone in terms of preventing serious injuries. He says efforts to lower speed differentials are enough to reasonably prevent lane-splitting collisions and related injuries. The results of the Berkeley study were a major driving factor behind the decision in California to change its lane-splitting law in 2016.

Recently, the Colorado State Patrol reminded drivers that lane splitting and filtering are illegal in the state and cited research published by Consumer Reports. This study found that almost 50 percent of California motorcyclists surveyed reported almost hitting a vehicle while lane splitting. The State Patrol holds that lane splitting reduces motorcycle visibility, limits the space between vehicles and endangers motorcyclists since they are often traveling faster than surrounding traffic.

California Led the Way in Lane-Splitting Laws

The first state to permit lane splitting is California. It is not true, however, to say that lane splitting is legal in California. The state did not legalize it; instead, it simply updated the language in the California Vehicle Code section 21658.1 to define rather than forbid lane splitting. The state is technically neutral on the subject. Law enforcement officers will not penalize motorcyclists for lane splitting as long as they do so safely and reasonably.

Other states soon followed California’s lead. Many have proposed bills that would allow similar lane-splitting practices.Such laws have passed in Arizona, Montana and Utah, but have widely failed when proposed in other states. Make sure you fully understand the lane-splitting laws in the state where you’ll be riding if you plan on motorcycling outside of Colorado. Performing this maneuver in a state that prohibits it could lead to penalties.

Will Colorado’s Lane-Splitting Law Change?

So far, a lane-splitting bill has only been proposed once in Colorado since California’s announcement of making the law neutral. In 2016, the Colorado House Committee voted against a bill that would allow lane splitting – a bill Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt proposed. The bill proposed lifting the ban on motorcycles driving between rows of traffic, as long as the motorcyclist traveled no faster than 15 miles per hour in traffic traveling no more than 5 miles per hour.

The bill might not have passed, but that is not to say similar lane-splitting laws will fail in the future. It is entirely possible for Colorado to follow in the footsteps of other states in terms of legalizing lane splitting. As researchers continue to study the effects lane splitting has on motorcycle safety and accident rates, Colorado lawmakers and residents may vote differently. As of now, however, motorcycle lane splitting remains against the law.

What Are My Legal Options After a Lane-Splitting Accident?

If you get involved in an accident where a motorcyclist was lane splitting, the rider could be financially responsible (liable) for the wreck. Breaking the lane-splitting law could be grounds for a negligence claim against the motorcyclist. There is a rule known as negligence per se that states that a party can be found negligent if he or she broke the law, without any further proof required. This means that a motorcyclist will have to pay for your property damage and any injuries if the rider was illegally lane splitting when he or she caused the crash.

If you were the one operating a motorcycle and another driver is alleging that you were illegally lane splitting, you may need an attorney to help you defend against liability. If you were only temporarily riding between lanes to pass another car, for example, this may not be proof of negligence. If you were a victim of an accident due to lane splitting in Colorado, our accident lawyers in Denver can help.