Should Lane Splitting Be Legal for Motorcyclists?

legalizing lane splitting for motorcyclistsCalifornia recently became the first state in the nation to legalize lane-splitting for motorcyclists. Informally, lane-splitting is described as motorcyclists cutting through slow-moving traffic by cutting between cars. More specifically California’s new legislation defines lane-splitting as “driving a motorcycle, that has 2 wheels in contact with the ground, between rows of stopped or moving vehicles in the same lane.”

The practice is also known as lane-sharing, filtering, whitelining or stripe riding and can be done on both divided and undivided streets, roads or highways. Technically, lane-splitting describes moving through traffic that is in motion whereas “filtering” describes moving through stopped traffic.

The measure was added to the California state vehicle code by passage of Assembly Bill 51 (AB51) in late August. It will take effect on Jan. 1, 2017. Lane-splitting has been a legal grey area in the state and has caused confusion among motorists, bikers and law enforcement.

For now, the law makes no mention of under what circumstances lane-splitting is allowed in the Golden State, but the California Highway Patrol (CHP) is expected to establish guidelines within a year in conjunction with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Office of Traffic Safety (OTS). A 50 mph speed limit while weaving between lanes and a prohibition against moving 15 mph faster than traffic were part of an earlier version of AB51 but were dropped from the legislation.

In 2013, the CHP posted guidelines on its website about the proper way to split lanes although the practice was not explicitly allowed or prohibited at that time in the state. On the website the Highway Patrol advised motorcyclists not to travel faster than 30 mph when lane-splitting and said the motorcyclist should not be moving more than 10 mph faster than the rest of traffic.

The guidelines were removed from the site after a citizen complained that CHP did not have the authority to post recommendations because there was no legislation in California on lane-splitting. The guidelines were labeled “underground regulations,” but a spokesman said they only provided common-sense traffic safety information on what to do when lane-splitting. It is speculated the new CHP recommendations will address the maximum speed motorcyclists can go when lane-splitting and how much faster than the rest of traffic they can travel.

Pros and Cons of Lane Splitting

For the last 20 years, the topic of lane-splitting has been debated throughout the United States—whether or not it is legal, whether it should be legal, whether or not it should be practiced regardless of legality. Allegedly, lane-splitting was commonly done in California before the passage of A51. Publishing of the removed CHP guidelines tends to indicate it was somewhat accepted by law enforcement.

Those in favor of permitting lane-splitting say it keeps motorcyclists out of danger by avoiding the risk of a rear-end collision which is the cause of about one fourth of motorcycle accidents, according to the LA Times. With lane-splitting accidents, injuries are likely to be broken legs or arms, less severe injuries when one considers how a person could fare in a motorcycle accident. Motorcyclists say they can typically react more quickly to what is in front of them than what is behind them. In addition, lane- splitting is claimed to reduce traffic congestion and save time and fuel.

When guidelines are provided, proponents claim it will be clear what is considered safe and law enforcement will be able to cite those who are lane-splitting unsafely.
Opponents say motorcyclists riding behind them are often invisible to them and without a cap on the speed at which a biker is moving, they may not see the approach of a fast-moving motorcycle just by glancing in their vehicle side mirrors. Buses and tractor trailers are particularly vulnerable to vision inadequacies in heavy traffic.

Many of the latter drivers view lane-splitting as reckless and are concerned about accidents caused by motorists suddenly opening their car doors or changing lanes quickly. They also doubt that there is a measurable difference in traffic congestion by allowing lane-splitting and say they feel uncomfortable when motorcycles are so close to cars. Some have indicated lane-splitting could cause motorists to have road rage, but the traffic data does not show a connection between the two.

What Do The Studies Show?

Probably the most discussed lane-splitting study is “Motorcycle Lane-splitting and Safety in California” done by the Safe Transportation Research & Education Center at the University of California Berkeley with findings published in 2014. It examined 5,969 motorcycle crashes between June 2012 and August 2013 using enhanced data reporting by police. In the 14-month period, the Center was able to examine the collision, and the personal and injury characteristics of the riders involved in the accidents.

The study found that most of the bikers who were lane-splitting were doing so during rush hour. They were traveling slowly and were less likely to be carrying a passenger or using alcohol. It also concluded 14 percent of lane-splitters were traveling 25 mph or faster and 3 percent were going 40 mph or more. Researchers found no great difference in the number of accidents when riding 10 mph or 15 mph faster than traffic. They found little difference in the dangers of lane-splitting at 30 mph compared to 50 mph.

A California Office of Traffic Safety (COTS) spokesman said the study found a lower rate of fatalities among lane-splitting motorcyclists and less serious injuries overall, but the study was not conclusive relative to the risks of lane-splitting versus not lane-splitting.

Researchers noted the speed differential between the biker and surrounding traffic is a critical factor. The faster the motorcyclist goes and the faster the surrounding traffic is traveling, the more crashes there are and the more severe the results are, the study indicated. It did not measure the trauma suffered by people in cars and trucks who were involved in lane-splitting accidents noting this was outside the scope of their report.

In 2013, the California Highway Patrol sponsored the California Enhanced Motorcycle Collision Data Project. At that time 37 percent of motorcyclists reported they always “split lanes” on freeways and 70 percent of lane-splitters said they exceeded the speed of surrounding traffic by 15 mph or less.

The Oregon Department of Transportation completed a “literature review” of lane sharing and noted “a potential safety benefit is increased visibility for the motorcyclist. Splitting lanes allows the motorcyclist to see what the traffic is doing ahead and be able to proactively maneuver, the Oregon DOT reported. However, the review was considered limited.

In Europe, the MAIDS (Motorcycle Accidents In-Depth Study) Report was conducted in 1999-2000 using Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) standards. This study collected data on more than 900 motorcycle accidents in five countries along with non-accident exposure data (control cases) to measure the contribution of different factors to accidents. Four of the five countries where data was collected allow lane-splitting yet none of the conclusions contained in the final report note any difference in rear-end accidents or accidents while lane-splitting. The motorcyclist was stopped in traffic prior to 2.8% of the accidents. MAIDS also has a 2009 version of their report which includes mopeds in the study.

Another often-cited United States report by proponents of lane-splitting is the Hurt Report of 1981, but there is no comparison made in the report between lane-splitters and those who do not follow the practice. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported in 2002 that lane-splitting “slightly reduces” rear-end accidents and is worthy of further study due to the possible reduction in traffic congestion benefits.

Many Motorcyclists and Many Accidents

California has a sizable number of motorcycles and the amount has increased by about 29 percent in 10 years’ time, according to the California Office of Traffic Safety. The number of registered motorcycles has increased from nearly 700,000 in 2005 to nearly 900,000 in 2015. The statistics were supplied by Chris Cochran, a spokesman for the COTS. He also stated that the number of motorcycle accidents is also rising. In 2013, there were 463 motorcycle fatalities and 11,946 serious injuries. He said lane-splitting is an issue where “there are plenty of opinions but very little data.”

Assemblyman Bill Quirk, who co-sponsored the lane-splitting legislation although he is not a motorcyclist himself, said lane-splitting has the backing of law enforcement, motorcyclist groups and the insurance industry. Assemblyman Tom Lackey, a retired state highway patrol sergeant, co-wrote the legislation.

If You Are Involved in a Motorcycle Accident

If you or a loved one is involved in a motorcycle accident, it is very possible there may be serious injuries. You may have the additional disadvantage of having been rendered unconscious in the crash and have no one to speak for you. If your injuries have been caused by the negligent act of another, or even if you are not sure what happened, but suspect another party was at fault in the accident, you need to contact, or have a family member contact, an Ohio motorcycle accident attorney.

Another thing to be aware of is that sometimes when a person is unconscious and unable to talk to police at the scene of the accident, the wrong person is cited.

We have attorneys who would be pleased to meet with you and discuss the specifics of your case. There is no charge whatsoever for an initial consultation and you will be under no obligation to hire our law firm.  Please contact us by calling 1-888-231-1570, chat with one of our 24-hour live chat representatives or send us a website message.

Should Lane Splitting Be Legal for Motorcyclists?
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Should Lane Splitting Be Legal for Motorcyclists?
Some states are legalizing lane splitting for motorcyclists. Read about the pros and cons of lane splitting and where to get help for motorcycle accidents.
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Slater & Zurz
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