The legality of lane-splitting.
July 15, 2006 3:01 PM   Subscribe

BC Motorcycle Riders and Lawyers: is lane-splitting actually illegal in BC, or assumed illegal?

A significant part of our population appears to believe it is illegal to enter an intersection to turn left before the opposing traffic is entirely cleared. They are, of course, wrong.

I am entertaining a hope that the illegality of lane-splitting in this province is a myth.

No input needed re: other jurisdictions.
posted by five fresh fish to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total)
The relevant section of BC's Motor Vehicle Act (1996) is here. From my cursory glance is does not appear to answer your question. However, IANAL.
posted by docgonzo at 3:49 PM on July 15, 2006

FWIW, an anecdote.

I was driving out in Maple Ridge, and making a left turn. I was behind a van who had pulled well into the large intersection, and I was also fully into the intersection. The van made its left turn, and immediately the light turned red, with me stuck in the intersection and unable to back up because of another vehicle behind me.

At that moment, a pickup truck ran through the red light and slammed head-on into me.

I'm MM, the van is VV and the truck is TT.
   |   |   |
___|   |   |___
 VV   T
___   T     ___
___     M   ___
   |   |   |
   |   |   |
While I wasn't moving, and the truck ran a red light (no dispute on this point from the driver), the RCMP officer determined I was 75% at fault. This was about 15 years ago, so rules may have changed.
posted by Kickstart70 at 4:09 PM on July 15, 2006

I think fff is asking about motorcycles driving between two lines of cars proceeding in the same direction on a four lane highway. The law states very clearly that you should drive on the right side of the line except when passing, when you should drive on the left side of the line. This can be reversed when a slow driver is in the left lane, but in either case you are required to signal your lane changes. I think that's where they'll get you, since lane-splitters do none of the above. In addition, motorcycles are not allowed to have more than one other motorcycle beside them in a lane. A car in the same lane is more than one motorcycle. Aside from that, it's dangerous because cars could change lanes legally but unexpectedly and hit lane-splitters proceeding at a much higher rate of speed than either lane of traffic. When they get the new bridge you won't have to wait as long, fff.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 4:29 PM on July 15, 2006

According to icbc, lane splitting in general is illegal in BC although it doesn't speak to situations regarding intersections directly. pdf (search inside it for the word "splitting").
posted by juv3nal at 4:42 PM on July 15, 2006

Response by poster: I'm allowed to drive on the left or right of a line of stopped vehicles (commonly called "picking the shortest line"); am I not basically doing the same thing when I can squeeze between the two? (Hell, it's not even a squeeze; there's damn near an entire car-width between adjacent vehicles at some of our intersections!)

I've seen slower vehicles pull to the right to allow a faster vehicle to pass without pulling fully into the oncoming lane. Is this legal? The cars are sharing the same lane. (I suspect it is not actually legal, except for emergency vehicles.)

And in valid lane-splitting situations, both lanes are actually stopped. Can a moving vehicle share a lane with a stopped vehicle? (I don't think "share" is even a valid concept for this situation. It's like sharing an ice cream with a dead man. Makes no sense.) Given the number of cars you see parked mostly out of the lane in rural areas, I rather suspect it either is legal or is a law that is entirely ignored.

Lane-splitting in some jurisdictions has been shown valid by virtue of not being explicitly outlawed. I think California ended up with an actual legal recognition of what constitutes lane splitting and when and how it is permitted (difference in vehicle speeds must be
I had a book about traffic law in BC; a collection of Vancouver Sun columns in which the journalist had done the legwork of finding caselaw and seeking authoritative responses from the RCMP and ICBC. I'd love to find out whether he addressed lane splitting, but I've lost the book and I'm not sure it's even published any more...

posted by five fresh fish at 8:14 PM on July 15, 2006

Response by poster: kickstart: if the light changed to yellow after he was past the gotta-do-it distance and your front-end was in his path, you were rightly found at fault: he had legal right-of-way; you did not yield to oncoming traffic; you were not in your lane; and probably a half-dozen other infractions.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:17 PM on July 15, 2006

Response by poster: Er, folks, the left-turn example wasn't the question; it was an example. There seem to be a lot of people who will refuse to pull out into the intersection to turn left until the way is perfectly clear; they are in the wrong: the law does not require them to stay behind the line.

Likewise, I think the idea that lane-splitting is illegal is wrong: I am passing stopped cars. And if I am beside them when it is time for them to move, as a parked car they must give right-of-way to moving traffic.

A driver who is driving a vehicle on a laned roadway... says nothing about the lane-splitting situation when cars are stopped. Right? I think the clauses do not apply.

Stay on the right....except when overtaking and passing a vehicle proceeding in the same direction. [doesn't address stopped cars.]

Here's the gold: The driver of a vehicle must not cause or permit the vehicle to overtake and pass on the right of another vehicle, except...

(a) when the vehicle overtaken is making a left turn or its driver has signalled his or her intention to make a left turn, [ie. you can lane-split when the car beside you is signalling a turn]

(b) when on a laned roadway there is one or more than one unobstructed lane on the side of the roadway on which the driver is permitted to drive, [ie. two lanes same direction, you can pass on the right] or

(c) on a one way street or a highway on which traffic is restricted to one direction of movement, where the roadway is free from obstructions and is of sufficient width for 2 or more lanes of moving vehicles. [again, it is legal to lanesplit.]

It seems to me that the law does not make illegal the practice of motorcycle lane-splitting, and especially so when the vehicles are actually stopped. The law doesn't seem to address what one can do when encountering a stopped car!

(That the ICBC book for new drivers says it's illegal doesn't mean a thing; ICBC isn't exactly reknown for admitting the law doesn't say what they wish it would say.)
posted by five fresh fish at 8:43 PM on July 15, 2006

The above examples involve passing on the right, not lane splitting, fff. You're talking about going between two vehicles. That's a whole 'nother kettle of fish. In (a) above, you can pass a left-turning vehicle on the right provided you are immediately behind it. If you are two cars behind it, you can't. You can proceed either in one lane or the other, and sometimes on the right shoulder, but not between cars. Apparently it is legal in California, but not in BC.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:05 PM on July 15, 2006

I am passing stopped cars. And if I am beside them when it is time for them to move, as a parked car they must give right-of-way to moving traffic.
Stopped traffic is not parked, fff.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:17 PM on July 15, 2006

Response by poster: Meh. Might as well be parked.

I'm not having success finding a clear definition of what a vehicle is to do when it is passing a stopped car on the side of the road. That's the nearest analogy to lane-splitting.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:17 PM on July 15, 2006

Vancouver cyclist here . This is an issue we cyclists deal with on a daily basis, since bicycles share the roadway but are not accorded any respect by motor-vehicle drivers (except the occasional bus driver). And I have to say that motorcyclists are, surprisingly, the most obnoxious towards us self-propelled two wheelers.

Anyway, what aspect of the (il)legality of lane-splitting is it that you specifically care about? I.e. the penalty for being caught doing it, or who will be found at fault in a motor-vehicle accident?

If the former, I agree that it's not exactly clear according to the Motor Vehicle Act of BC. A cop in a bad mood will find a way to fine you, one way or another.

If the latter, case-law precedent in BC mostly indicates that, in a collision, you will be found at fault if you were passing on the right while sharing the lane. If the involved parties were in a separate lanes, then the person who was changing lanes is generally at fault. Now if you were passing on the left while sharing the lane, court decisions have fallen either way and seem to be dependent on other factors.

I don't have any links handy -- this information comes from extensive conversations with lawyers who've represented me when I've sued drivers for hitting me. Unfortunately this seems to happen to me once every couple of years, and therefore I'm a bit of an unwilling expert in these matters.

My rule of thumb is never pass stopped/slow cars on the right at an intersection. I do pass on the right at other times since the likelihood of the car on my left making a right turn is almost nil. But whenever possible, I change lanes and take the full lane when passing. Yes, even on a bicycle...given that I often ride faster than cars drive when in the city.
posted by randomstriker at 1:16 AM on July 16, 2006

Note that my rule of thumb is applied for the purpose of saving my skin. Winning lawsuits is an afterthought.
posted by randomstriker at 1:19 AM on July 16, 2006

Response by poster: Damn. I'd pretty much concluded that what I need are case law examples (aside: a question about layman access to case law on the web would be a kickass Askme.) Ultimately that's how the functionality of the law is determined.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:19 AM on July 16, 2006

I answer letters for the B.C. Ministry of Transportation, and I clearly remember a letter on this topic. Lane splitting is illegal here and not under consideration. One vehicle per lane.

It's legal in California, but not recommended by their authorities.
posted by Yogurt at 3:08 PM on July 20, 2006

Response by poster: One of these days I shall have to ask how to search for case history. Ultimately, that's what's going to define its illegality. In my opinion the language is not explicit, and I believe a good lawyer could make a convincing argument that the behaviour is not illegal.

I'm not that lawyer, nor even the sap who gets to hire him to prove the point. I'll stick with the superstition. Besides, conservative never hurts on a motorcycle.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:28 PM on July 20, 2006

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