New Bill May Put Motorcyclists’ Lane-Splitting in Focus
As a motorcyclist for 30 years, I must admit I did my fair share of lane splitting: Bypassing most of the stalled traffic on the 101 by traversing the white, dashed lines – waving a thank you to the handful of four-wheeled drivers who scooted over a bit to give me just a little more room as I did so.
Lane-splitting is considered dangerous, but in California it’s not illegal. This is the only state where this is not illegal – which isn’t to say that lane-splitting is legal, exactly.
But motorcycle safety theories could be changing now. Motorcyclists who lane-split (at reasonable speeds) may be safer than those who do not, according to researchers at UC Berkeley’s Safe Transportation Research and Education Center (SafeTREC). According to the study, excessive speed by motorcyclists caused more injuries for lane-splitters than other factors.
Thomas Rice, PhD, as principal investigator for the study, explains:
Surprisingly, we found that the difference in speed between the motorcycle and the surrounding traffic was a bigger predictor of injury than speed alone…Above a 15 mile-per-hour speed differential, the risk of injury rose significantly.
Of the nearly 6,000 California motorcycle accidents researched by SafeTREC, nearly 1,000 riders were lane-splitting at the time of the accident. The primary risk occurs when other drivers change lanes without checking for motorcyclists. Because lane-splitters are closer in proximity to the vehicles, both automobile drivers and cyclists have less time to perceive other’s actions and make adjustments.
This would support Dr. Rice’s comment regarding speed differentials between the riders and the drivers.
New Bill: No Wheelies Allowed
California Assembly Bill 51 regarding lane-splitting was introduced to the legislature last December by Bill Quirk (D-Hayward), Kansen Chud (D-San Jose) and Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale). It was passed by the Assembly in late May by a 53-11 vote.
Continued success of AB 51 as currently written could make it legal (as opposed to quasi-legal) for motorcyclists to lane-split under these conditions:
1. The motorcyclist must have both wheels on the ground.
2. The bike is not traveling faster than 50 mph.
3. The motorcyclist is not riding more than 15 mph faster than other traffic.
One problem with the bill as it is presently worded is the 15 mph differential. As we know in California, one lane of traffic could be moving much faster than the traffic in an adjacent lane.
On the other hand, the bill’s writers say allowing motorcyclists to lane-split makes the riders less likely to be hit in a rear-end collision. Either way, motorcyclists whether lane-splitting or not, should always drive defensively and with the best possible protective gear.