Lane filtering vs lane splitting and what will soon be legal in Colorado

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(COLORADO) — This month, Governor Jared Polis signed several bills into law, one of which will soon allow motorcyclists to cut in between vehicles that are stopped.

‘Motorcycle Lane Filtering & Passing,’ or SB24-079, was signed into law on April 4 and will become effective on Aug. 7, 2024. FOX21 News reached out to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) for clarification on what the law will allow and what is still considered illegal.

“The new law on lane filtering means, very simply, that you as a motorcyclist can cut to the front of a line of vehicles that are stopped,” said Sam Cole, Traffic Safety Manager for CDOT. “It does not mean that you can cut in between vehicles that are moving.”

There are several other provisions motorcyclists will have to follow when passing stopped vehicles including; the road has lanes wide enough to pass safely, the motorcycle is moving at 15 miles per hour or less, and can not pass on the right shoulder.

“The shoulder is meant for emergency vehicles, no one should be just driving or riding in that at will, also they don’t want you passing all the vehicles on the far right side because somebody may be turning right,” said Cole. “So if you’re going to be cutting in between traffic, you have to do it in between lanes of stopped traffic.”

Cole said that come Aug. 7, motorcyclists stuck behind stopped cars whether at a traffic light or during a traffic jam no longer have to wait at the end of the line.

“The thinking is, that it could prevent motorcyclists from being rear-ended if they are just sitting there in the back of a line,” said Cole. “They are very, highly vulnerable back there, so I think, perhaps, cutting to the front of the line will enhance their safety… [and] the other reason that the bill was signed into a law, was just to, reduce congestion, too.”

Cole emphasized a message to riders that, this is a lane filtering law, not a lane splitting law.

“The law could be ripe for abuse if people misunderstand that and that is what we worry about and that’s why it’s so important that we get the message out; that the motorcycle can only cut in between vehicles if they are stopped, they can not cut in between vehicles that are moving, it’s that simple.”

According to the Colorado State Patrol (CSP), lane splitting in Colorado is considered a Class A traffic infraction, which if a motorcycle rider is cited for this, can involve a fine, and points can be put on their driving record.

CDOT will be conducting safety data on the bill and in 2027, will issue a report on its findings.

“After three years we have to analyze all of the data that might apply to the outcome of this law such as any sort of prevention of rear-end collisions involving motorcycles, and then also on the other side, probably unintended consequences such as; motorcyclists clipping peoples mirrors as they split in between the lanes of traffic,” said Cole. “We are going to analyze all the data; crash data, fatality data and see what the outcomes, if any, of the legislation are.”

Cole said CDOT will be working with the CSP and local law enforcement agencies across the state to monitor the safety data, and according to Trooper Gabriel Moltrer of CSP, its agency will also be doing an educational campaign in June and July before the law officially goes into effect.

Last year, according to Cole, 134 motorcyclists were killed on Colorado’s roadways, and while that number was down about 10% from 2022, Cole said that number is still way too high and that drivers and riders need to be vigilant of each other.

Cole also stressed that May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, during which time drivers will begin to see an uptick in riders lasting through the summer. “It’s really important that both motorcycle riders as well as drivers of vehicles pay attention and do the right thing,” said Cole.

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