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LANE SPLITTING – LEGAL OR NOT?

Published by in F.A.Q's ·
Lane splitting is, for the sake of clarity, the practice of a motorcyclist passing between two lanes of slow moving or stationary vehicles on a multi-laned roadway. In most cases this roadway is a divided one which means that traffic travelling in one direction is separated from traffic going in the opposite direction by a raised island, median or dividing space.

The result is that all traffic travels in the same direction and that the motorcyclist passes other slower traffic while in the same lane as the vehicle being passed. This passing action has been labelled an offence by some.

For it to be an offence we need to understand what creates an offence in law. All offences are divided into two classes or types of behaviour. The behaviour can either be an “Act” or an “Omission”. An Act is doing something which is prohibited by law and an Omission is Not doing something that Is required by law.

For example : Stealing is forbidden by law. If your act is to steal you would break the law. Paying your taxes is a requirement of law. If you do not to pay your taxes you break the law. So in reality the law has to create a requirement for some action on your part or forbid an action by you to create an offence of any kind. The actual offence is committed when you actually do or don’t do what the law requires. Action is therefore only illegal if it conflicts with what the law required.

For the action of passing a slower moving vehicle while remaining in the same lane as that vehicle to be an offence, the law must have actually prohibited the action or required some action which was not done.

Therefore for this action to be illegal would require us to produce a provision of law which makes the behaviour unlawful.

Despite a very thorough scouring of the National Road Traffic Act 93/1996, we remain unable to find any prohibition placed on the practice of lane splitting. Nowhere in traffic law is this behaviour by road users, not just motorcyclists, prohibited. Likewise there is no requirement or obligation placed on motorcyclists in this regard at all, other than all passing has to be done safely.

The actual legislation most closely related to this matter is found in the National Traffic Regulations of 2000, which prescribe the requirements for safely passing other traffic and the actions commonly referred to as “overtaking”.

The National Road Traffic Regulations, 2000 at Chapter X, dealing with the rules of the road and related matters, has specific reference to the passing of a vehicle. In Regulation 298(1) it requires that the driver of any vehicle intending to pass any other vehicle proceeding in the same direction on a public road, pass to the right thereof at a safe distance and not drive on the left side of the roadway again until safely clear of the vehicle being passed. In lay terms, this means drive on the left side of the road, pass other traffic by moving to the right side of the road and only return to your left half of the roadway once safely clear of the passed car. Simple enough…you are allowed to drive on right side of road to pass another vehicle.

This regulation then has a proviso added, which in essence says, passing on the left of the vehicle being passed is permissible if the person driving the passing vehicle can do so with safety to himself and other traffic or property, which is or may be on such road.

It then goes on to qualify the further circumstances under which this passing on the left side is permitted. Among these further circumstances is Reg 298(1)a) where the vehicle being passed is turning to its right or the driver has signalled that s/he intends turning to the right. – In other words where the vehicle ahead only partially obstructs your passage you may safely pass on the left of that vehicle even if it is in the same lane as you are.

We would like to think that said vehicle is slowing or already stationary. However you should note that the regulation nowhere mentions slow or slowing or stationary before you may pass it. It merely has to appear to be turning or the driver thereof has to have signalled the intention to turn right.

Thus far it is simple enough, you will generally or normally be allowed to pass another vehicle on the right hand side, provided that it is safe to do so. You will also be allowed to pass another vehicle on the left under certain specific conditions.The fact that the regulations at regulation 298A requires that passing never happens on the shoulder of any roadway, would seem to dictate that the vehicle passing on the left only do so while in the same lane as the car being passed…..the law, in this instance therefore requires you to lane split.....you may not leave the lane while passing another vehicle in that lane. You will also note that this applies to any vehicle.

Among the remaining specific conditions allowing passing on the left at Reg 298(1)(b) we find that if you were on a public road in a residential or built-up area and traffic on that road is only allowed to travel in one direction but the roadway is simply wide enough for two or more lines of moving vehicles. The driver wishing to pass another, may pass on the left side of the vehicle being passed. - This means that any vehicle (not just a motorcycle) may pass any other vehicle travelling in the same direction on its right or left side if the road is wide enough (ie in the same lane) for those vehicles to fit alongside each other.

You will note that there is no prohibition on them passing each other in the same traffic lane at all…..which then constitutes legally permitted lane splitting. It goes on to say at Reg 298(1)(c) that if you were on a public road in a residential or built-up area and that road carries traffic in two directions (not a one-way) and where that roadway was simply wide enough for two or more lines of moving traffic, that you may pass on the right or left of any other vehicle…..no mention is made of different lanes at all indicating that such passing could and should occur in the same lane as the vehicle being passed……again legally permitted lane splitting.

Finally at Reg 298(1)(d) it says that you may pass on the left of any vehicle on a roadway which is a one-way roadway and which is divided into traffic lanes. This one allows you pass in the left lane but does not take away from the provisions of 298(1)(b) if each lane is actually wide enough to allow passing without leaving the lane. Each traffic lane is regarded as a roadway and as such the provisions of Reg 298(1)(b) should still apply…….which again legally permits "lane splitting".

It stresses again in the proviso following Reg 298(1)(e) that no such passing in any of the above instances may occur on the shoulder or verge of the road….. which means that if passing on the left is allowed in all these cases it has to happen within the same lane as the other vehicle. This means that both vehicles will be in the same lane when the passing occurs…which is known as lane splitting.

Naturally it has to be done with due care and consideration for all persons using the road at the time........Reg 298 clearly sanctions the practice of "lane splitting". In fact, the entire Regulation dealing with passing another vehicle actually re-affirms in every single subsection that lane splitting is not only legal, but in some instances actually required by law.

There is also an argument that each lane is to be regarded as a separate roadway and this can be found in the proviso to Reg 309(6)a) as it relates to the duty to ride in single file imposed on motorcyclists. Then just when we are satisfied that lane splitting is very obviously legal. The next paragraph or subsection at Regulation 298(2) goes almost out of its way to reaffirm the argument for lane splitting by plainly stating yet again that no driver may pass any other vehicle travelling in the same direction when approaching the summit of a rise, a curve or at any other place where the driver’s view is so restricted or obstructed that the passing action would cause a danger to approaching traffic….UNLESS that passing action can be performed “without encroaching on the right-hand side of the roadway”……which clearly then requires any passing at these dangerous points to be done by passing the other vehicle in the same lane…..commonly referred to by bikers as “LANE SPLITTING”.

You will note that the overtaking at these dangerous places is not simply prohibited by the regulation. The regulation actually allows overtaking at these dangerous places on condition that the passing vehicle does not encroach on the right hand side of the road…which means you can overtake here if you stay in the same lane as the vehicle being passed.

That said. Motorcyclists have for some time been advised to lane split at no more than 10kmh faster than the ambient traffic speed on the roadway at the time by various road safety groupings. It is a wise recommendation but not a law. In most cases it is advisable to only lane split where traffic is stationary or near stationary and to do so with the utmost care remaining mindful of the fact that drivers of cars and other four-wheeled vehicles may decide to lane hop in heavy traffic in their attempts to get ahead.

Motorcyclists are also reminded that while lane splitting is of itself not illegal there are still a host of charges that can be brought against the motorcyclist who behaves irresponsibly while lane splitting. Among these is Reckless or Negligent driving, riding without due care or consideration, passing when unsafe, failing to signal the rider's intentions, cutting in after passing, driving at a speed inappropriate for the prevailing circumstances and so on.

So, despite the fact that lane splitting is entirely legal, we are cautioned to remain aware of the fact that only we are ultimately responsible for our own safety. We are reminded that we need to exercise good judgement and maintain a higher level of awareness of our environment than most other road users because, regardless of how legal our actions may be, we as motorcyclists, will invariably come off second best in any collision.

Regardless of how legal it is, always ask yourself how prudent it is before jumping in with both feet....especially if you would like to keep those feet and the legs to which they are attached. We hope that provides some clarity on this often debated subject.

Regards
Biker Basics Motorcycle Academy

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