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Is Lane Splitting Legal in the UK?

Lane splitting, also known as filtering, is the act of riding a motorcycle between two lanes of traffic moving in the same direction.

In the UK, lane splitting is legal, but there are certain guidelines that must be followed. According to The Highway Code, motorcyclists are allowed to filter through traffic, but they must do so in a safe and responsible manner. This means that motorcyclists should only filter through traffic when it is safe to do so, and they should not exceed the speed limit while doing so.

What is Lane Splitting?

Lane splitting, often referred to as lane filtering in some contexts, is a practice where motorcyclists ride between lanes of slow-moving or stationary traffic. This technique is typically employed to bypass congestion and reduce travel time. Lane splitting allows motorcyclists to utilise the gaps between vehicles, which can help them avoid being stuck in traffic and can potentially reduce overall congestion on busy roads.

It is important to distinguish lane splitting from lane filtering, as the terms are sometimes used interchangeably but can refer to slightly different actions. Lane filtering usually involves moving through stationary or slow-moving traffic at a low speed, often seen at traffic lights or in heavy congestion. Lane splitting, on the other hand, can occur at higher speeds and is generally associated with moving between lanes on faster roads or motorways.

Motorcyclists advocate for lane splitting due to several perceived benefits, including reduced travel times, improved traffic flow, and enhanced visibility in traffic. However, it’s a practice that comes with risks, primarily due to the close proximity to other vehicles and the potential for sudden lane changes by drivers.

Legal Status of Lane Splitting in the UK

In the United Kingdom, the legality of lane splitting is somewhat nuanced. The practice is not explicitly illegal, but it is governed by the Highway Code and general traffic laws which aim to ensure road safety for all users.

According to the Highway Code, motorcyclists are allowed to filter through traffic, which is generally understood to mean moving between lanes of stationary or slow-moving vehicles. However, this must be done with a high degree of caution and consideration for other road users. The key rules from the Highway Code relevant to lane splitting and filtering include:

  • Rule 88: This rule advises motorcyclists to ride defensively and be particularly aware of other road users. It encourages riders to position themselves where they can be seen and to signal their intentions clearly.
  • Rule 160: This rule highlights that road users should be aware of the presence of motorcyclists and suggests that drivers should check their mirrors and blind spots before changing lanes.
  • Rule 211: This rule specifically addresses the need for drivers to look out for motorcyclists who may be filtering through traffic.

Although lane splitting is not expressly prohibited, it must be performed safely and without causing danger or obstruction to other road users. Unsafe lane splitting could potentially lead to charges of careless or dangerous driving under broader traffic laws.

Historical legal cases have occasionally brought lane splitting into the spotlight, particularly when accidents occur involving motorcyclists who were filtering through traffic. Such cases typically examine whether the motorcyclist was riding safely and within the bounds of the law at the time of the incident.

Safety Considerations when lane splitting

Safety is a paramount concern when it comes to lane splitting. Motorcyclists must adhere to specific guidelines to minimise risks associated with this practice. Here are some crucial safety considerations provided by authorities:

Speed Limits and Conditions

Motorcyclists should split lanes only at low speeds, typically not more than 15-20 mph faster than the traffic they are passing. Lane splitting at high speeds is particularly dangerous and increases the likelihood of accidents. It’s also advisable to avoid lane splitting when traffic is moving at 30 mph or more, as higher speeds reduce the reaction time for both motorcyclists and drivers.

Situational Awareness

Riders must maintain a high level of situational awareness. This involves continuously scanning the road ahead, checking mirrors, and being vigilant for any sudden movements from other vehicles. Motorcyclists should be particularly cautious around large vehicles like lorries and buses, which have larger blind spots.

Visibility and Positioning

Ensuring that other road users can see them is crucial for motorcyclists. Wearing high-visibility clothing and using headlights during the day can improve visibility. Positioning is also key; motorcyclists should aim to stay within the driver’s field of vision and avoid lingering in blind spots.

Road Conditions

Lane splitting should be avoided in poor weather conditions, such as heavy rain or fog, which can reduce visibility and road grip. Riders should also be cautious of road hazards like potholes, debris, or oil spills, which can be more challenging to navigate between lanes.

By following these safety considerations, motorcyclists can reduce the risks associated with lane splitting and help ensure a safer journey for themselves and others on the road.

Best Practices for Lane Splitting

To practice lane splitting safely and responsibly, motorcyclists should adhere to several best practices. These guidelines not only enhance the safety of the rider but also help in maintaining a harmonious relationship with other road users.

Optimal Speeds

As previously mentioned, maintaining an appropriate speed differential is critical. Motorcyclists should not exceed 15-20 mph more than the traffic flow and should refrain from lane splitting when traffic speeds exceed 30 mph. Lower speeds provide better control and reaction time.

Situational Awareness

Constant vigilance is essential. Motorcyclists should keep an eye out for indicators that a car might change lanes or for gaps that could close suddenly. It’s also crucial to anticipate the actions of other road users, particularly in dense traffic situations.

Communication with Other Drivers

Clear communication can prevent misunderstandings on the road. Using hand signals, making eye contact with drivers, and employing indicators early can signal a motorcyclist’s intentions. Additionally, a quick honk can alert drivers to the motorcyclist’s presence if necessary.

Maintaining a Safe Distance

Motorcyclists should avoid getting too close to other vehicles while splitting lanes. Keeping a safe buffer zone helps prevent collisions if a car suddenly swerves or brakes. Riders should also be prepared to stop or slow down quickly if the traffic situation changes unexpectedly.

Lane Positioning

Choosing the right lane position is vital for safety. Motorcyclists should avoid lane splitting next to large vehicles and should prefer splitting between the right-most lanes on multi-lane roads, where traffic tends to move slower.

Advice for Car Drivers

Drivers can also play a significant role in ensuring the safety of lane splitting motorcyclists. By checking mirrors frequently, being aware of blind spots, and using indicators early, drivers can help create a safer environment for everyone on the road. Drivers should also avoid sudden lane changes and always remain alert for the presence of motorcyclists.

By following these best practices, motorcyclists can perform lane splitting more safely, while drivers can contribute to a safer and more predictable traffic environment.

Public Opinion and Debate

The practice of lane splitting garners a range of opinions from different stakeholders in the UK. Public opinion is divided, with both strong advocates and vehement opponents expressing their views based on safety, efficiency, and road-sharing ethics.

Support from Motorcyclists

Many motorcyclists support lane splitting, citing benefits such as reduced travel times and improved traffic flow. Enthusiasts argue that lane splitting helps alleviate congestion by utilising unused space between lanes, thereby freeing up room for other vehicles. Additionally, some motorcyclists feel that lane splitting enhances their visibility to drivers, reducing the likelihood of rear-end collisions in stop-and-go traffic.

Concerns from Other Road Users

Conversely, some car drivers and road safety advocates express concerns about the potential hazards of lane splitting. The primary apprehensions include the increased risk of accidents due to sudden lane changes by cars and the difficulty in predicting motorcyclists’ movements. There is also a perception that lane splitting may encourage reckless behaviour among less experienced riders, leading to higher accident rates.

Expert Opinions and Studies

Traffic safety experts and researchers offer mixed assessments. Studies conducted in various regions indicate that when executed responsibly, lane splitting can be safe and may even reduce certain types of accidents. For instance, research from California, where lane splitting is legal, suggests that motorcyclists who split lanes in heavy traffic are less likely to be rear-ended than those who do not. However, experts caution that the practice requires strict adherence to safety guidelines and continuous education for both motorcyclists and drivers.

Legislative Debates

In the legislative arena, there are ongoing debates about whether more explicit regulations or even legalization of lane splitting are necessary. Proponents argue for clearer laws to standardise safe lane splitting practices, while opponents call for stricter enforcement of current traffic laws to prevent potential misuse.

The public debate underscores the need for balanced policies that consider the perspectives of all road users and aim to enhance overall road safety.

Lane Splitting in Other Countries

Understanding the global landscape of lane splitting practices can provide valuable insights into its potential regulation and implementation in the UK. Different countries have adopted varied approaches, reflecting their unique traffic conditions, cultural attitudes, and legal frameworks.

United States

In the United States, lane splitting is explicitly legal only in California. The California Highway Patrol (CHP) has issued guidelines to help motorcyclists and drivers understand safe lane splitting practices. Studies in California have indicated potential safety benefits, including reduced rear-end collisions and lower risk of overheating for motorcycles in traffic. Other states are considering similar measures, but none have yet followed California’s lead.


Australia provides another interesting case. Lane filtering, which is similar to lane splitting but typically involves slower speeds, is legal in several states, including New South Wales and Queensland. Australian authorities have implemented strict rules, such as limiting lane filtering to roads with speed limits below 30 mph and prohibiting it in school zones. These measures aim to balance the benefits of reduced congestion with the need to maintain road safety.

European Countries

In Europe, the approach to lane splitting varies widely. In countries like France, lane splitting is tolerated and even has unofficial guidelines, although it is not explicitly legal. France has conducted pilot programs to assess the safety and effectiveness of lane splitting, with mixed results. Meanwhile, countries like Germany and the Netherlands take a stricter stance, prohibiting the practice outright to prioritise safety and clarity in traffic laws.

Author – Julie Condliffe

Julie Condliffe is a four-time bestselling author, successful property investor and an award winning solicitor. She is the founding partner of Creative Legals.