Over the past few years, many states have considered legalizing different variations on lane splitting or at least not making it outright illegal. Many bills have gone to the state legislatures but so far none have passed. Lane splitting is looked at as a dangerous, daredevil activity but according to many safety studies it may just have a bad reputation.
The Good Side of Lane Splitting
The obvious upside to lane splitting is that the rider gets to their destination faster because they aren’t sitting in heavy traffic, an obvious positive. A Belgian study in 2012 has found that not only does it cut down on the riders commute, but also the surrounding cars as well. The study found that if 10% of the vehicles are motorcycles that can lane split the commute time for everyone lessens by up to 8 minutes. It can also cut carbon emissions by up to 6 percent, less time on the road means less pollution overall.
But what about the dangers? According to a recent study by UC Berkeley lane splitting cuts down on the risk of injuries done to motorcyclists if done safely. The study included 6,000 crashes, 997 of which were riders splitting lanes. Head injuries were reduced from 17 percent to 9 percent, torso injuries from 29 percent to 19 percent and fatal crashes were cut by more than half from 3 percent to 1.2 percent. It also reduced the likelihood of motorcyclists being rear ended from 4.6 percent to 2.6 percent.
Having motorcyclists out of heavy stop and go traffic protects them from distracted drivers which could be deadly to them if they stayed in the regular lanes. There is a catch though, these safety findings are only applicable to riders going under 50 mph and no more than 15 mph over the flow of traffic.
Riders who regularly lane split have even been found to take more safety precautions on their own as well. 81 percent compared to 67 percent wear safer full-face helmets, they are less likely to have alcohol in their system and they overall drive at lower speeds than motorcyclists who have to stay in the regular vehicle lanes at all times.
The Legislation and California’s Example
California is an interesting case for lane-splitting that it didn’t have any laws for or against the practice, until last year when it officially became the only state to legally allow lane splitting and lane filtering. So recent that even the official DMV page still hasn’t been updated.
The other states looking into legalizing want the benefits of lane-splitting without the full free reign that California has.
Oregon has the same speed limitations as the others, except it is legal on highways, not side streets. So far, no lane-splitting bills have gotten close to passing, but with multiple bills being pushed as recently as February you never know what the future could hold.
What are the Dangers?
Though lane splitting at low speeds have been found to be safer for riders, the main danger is still the distracted car drivers around them. Cars will dart into a riders lane, open doors unexpectedly or even rear-end riders because they aren’t paying attention to the road. Lane splitting will only be truly safe at high speeds when autonomous driving is perfected.
How far are we from that technology?
Well, very. Very far.
The newest Tesla models have some of the most sophisticated auto-drive features on the market, with an auto-detect feature that is supposed to see lane-splitting motorcycles.
As you can see from this video, that technology is shoddy at best, especially with bikes going at higher speeds. The sonar technology that detects possible objects still senses something there, but it would be too late for the rider by the time the car ‘saw’ them.
Lane splitting at lower speeds isn’t just safe for riders, it reduces overall traffic congestion and cuts down on pollution. Seems like a win-win situation to us, just don’t go over 50 mph.