Arizona to Consider Legalizing Motorcycle Lane Splitting

Long accepted as standard practice in California, Arizona will debate the controversial practice in the state Senate.

Arizona has become the latest state to introduce legislation that could make it legal for motorcycles to pass between slower cars in traffic, a practice known as “lane splitting.”

The Phoenix New Times reports that State Senator David Farnsworth has introduced S.B. 1007, which would eliminate the wording that currently bans lane splitting. It would also add provisions for guidelines regulating the practice. Farnsworth says he’s not “passionate” about the bill himself but introduced it because one of his constituents asked him to.

“I honestly wonder whether it’s safe,” Farnsworth told the Phoenix New Times. “But I also think, man, what a practical thing for the motorcycle rider, because he’s going to get there a lot faster than I will.” Farnsworth hopes the bill will encourage debate and discussion both for and against the practice, including studies and statistic to demonstrate or disprove its safety.

Most of the world outside the U.S. and Canada permit lane splitting. Lane splitting has been a long accepted “not illegal” practice in California and was officially legalized last year. A few other states, such as Oregon, have introduced their own bills to legalize it, but so far none have passed into law.

The American Motorcyclist Association approaches the topic of lane splitting with caution, but generally approves of it as long as it’s done safely and responsibly. Not only does it get motorcyclists where they’re going faster than the cars stuck in traffic, it’s also much safer, eliminating the possibility of getting hit from behind at high speed by an inattentive driver who doesn’t notice the traffic slowdown. 

But the idea faces opposition from those who believe that it is too dangerous for motorcycles to split between cars. Among those organizations is the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, the Arizona Department of Transportation, and the Department of Public Safety. Reports and videos of motorcycles speeding through traffic unsafely have no doubt given opponents ammunition to shoot down legislation to legalize responsible lane splitting. Even the AMA recognizes the hazards of lane splitting, specifically retraining drivers that the practice is allowed and to look for bikes next to them before changing lanes.

As a motorcyclist myself, I’m in favor of legal lane splitting, but I also can’t see it working in my native Massachusetts. I think drivers here are too aggressive and inattentive for bikes to split lanes safely. While Californians will often move over to give motorcycles room to pass, Boston drivers would likely block motorcycles intentionally, or at least by accident. Still, I’d like to see lane splitting legalized so that I’d have the option to do it if I feel it’s safe. Making it legal only means you’re allowed to do it, not that it’s required.