Lane-splitting is the practice of riding between lanes of traffic or sharing a lane with another motor vehicle. It is legal in California, but no other state. So, is “Lane Splitting” for a motorcyclist prudent, time saving and most of all safe? This controversial subject has come under scrutiny countless times and even with the latest “SafeTREC” report: (http://www.ots.ca.gov/pdf/Publications/Motorcycle-Lane-Splitting-and-Safety-2015.pdf) other states have not rushed out to make “Lane Splitting” legal. Why?
In the report it reads: “The most basic (risk) is that lane-splitting riders often put themselves closer to other vehicles than they otherwise would. This proximity reduces the time riders have to identify and react to changes in the behaviors of other motorists. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the primary risk while lane-splitting is the lane-changing of other vehicles. Other drivers often initiate lane changes without first checking for lane-splitting motorcycles. It is in these situations where the motorcycle speed differential may play a strong role in collision causation.”
Ok, so we can surmise that motorists change lanes and pull out in front of motorcyclists? Lane Splitting laws or not, this happens. I have personally ridden a motorcycle in almost every state of the union and all I can say is, yep! No matter what state or what the laws are, motorist will change lanes suddenly and without turn signals or warnings. True, we lane splitters, (yes, I’m one of those Peeps), are closer to a car when this happens. However, it’s the sudden, “Is that car really going to do that?” lane change that becomes my, “Holy Shit! – He did!, meter” that really is the unsafe thing. See, when I am lane splitting I am fully aware that a car might change lanes. It’s when I’m in my lane, a car is their lane and all is well and then and bam! The car changes lanes without notice and by the time this has sunk in, they are at the proximity that I would be if I was lane changing. In other words, sudden lane changes are more of a surprise in normal traffic with no Lane Splitting. Bottom line, if you expect mutual respect from motorists… well, too bad, because that doesn’t always happen. Splitting or not, always expect the unexpected!
The study also suggests that uneven pavement as well as road and highway markings are also potential hazards. Yes, they can be. Biggest hazard I have seen? Re-treads spewn all over the freeway. (If you wanna save motorcyclists’ lives, outlaw re-treads on trucks!)
Read the report if you want all the stats, but a few stunning stats that I must point out are these: “Lane-splitting motorcyclists were also injured much less frequently during their collisions. Head injury (9% vs 17%), torso injury (19% vs 29%), extremity injury (60% vs 66%), and fatal injury (1.2% vs 3.0%). Also, Lane-splitting riders were significantly less likely to be rear-ended than non-lane-splitting riders (2.6 percent vs. 4.6 percent) ” Now, here is the interesting part as the report goes on: “Compared with other motorcyclists, lane-splitting motorcyclists were more often riding on weekdays and during commute hours, were using better helmets, and were traveling at lower speeds. Lane-splitting riders were also less likely to have been using alcohol and less likely to have been carrying a passenger.” So, maybe “Us Lane Splitters” are not the “Hooligan” type of rider that many motorists detest?
How Lane Splitters Are Viewed.
The non-motorcycling community doesn’t seem to like lane-splitting. 61% “somewhat” or “strongly” disapproved of the practice of lane-splitting. Most non-motorcyclist think that it is illegal in California. 36% of motorists believe that it is illegal, and an additional 12% were unsure about its legality. In fact, in 2006 a Bay Area Radio DJ (Woody, of 105.3) encouraged listeners to “open a door and take you out as you are trying to squeeze through” on the air. Story here: http://www.motorcycledaily.com/2006/01/17january06_woody/
It goes to show you how certain people view this practice. Oddly, that broadcast was in the very state that allows it!
Now, granted, it can be jarring when you are passively sitting in traffic and suddenly, whoosh! A sort bike comes flying by, inches from your mirrors! Or… some person on a big cruiser with straight through pipes is rapping their throttle away at traffic trying to get cars to give them room. (Yes, I agree, that is annoying). However, all of this pales in comparison to a relatively safe practice that saves fuel, helps traffic congestion and gets you to where you are going faster.
Yes, Lane Splitting has it’s caveats and some unsafe issues. However, it is largely a safer practice on more congested freeways. I like knowing that I have a better chance of not getting accordian-ed between two cars. Like many motorcyclists, I certainly do appreciate the motorist who yields a bit and makes a little room. Just remember fellow motorcyclists, they aren’t required to.
A Ride Apart – https://youtu.be/JNGD9AAIfFU