Lane splitting is the act of riding a motorcycle between rows of stopped or slow moving vehicles that are traveling the same direction. Simply put, it’s riding the yellow line between the lanes to bypass traffic in a traffic jam.
In Europe and Asia, lane splitting has always been legal, but it’s a different story in the U.S.
Lane splitting is currently illegal in all 50 states, although there have been recent attempts to legalize it. One of those is a bill that passed the California State Assembly in June, and then passed the Senate with a unanimous vote in August. It now sits on the governor’s desk awaiting his approval, which he is expected to give. Some argue that it was never technically illegal in California in the first place, but the passage of this bill will make its legality official.
As a practical matter, California law enforcement agencies have long accepted the practice, with the California Highway Patrol even publishing safety guidelines on lane splitting for motorcycle riders. However, last year a concerned citizen raised a complaint, saying that by doing so the CHP was essentially creating public policy. That’s when Democratic Rep. Bill stepped up with Assembly Bill 51.
The Pros And Cons Of Lane Splitting
The American Motorcycle Association succinctly makes the case for those against lane splitting, stating, “Perhaps one of the most dangerous situations for any on-highway motorcyclist is being caught in congested traffic, where stop-and-go vehicles, distracted and inattentive vehicle operators, and environmental conditions pose an increased risk of physical contact with another vehicle or hazard…even minor contact under such conditions can be disastrous for motorcyclists.” And they back up their position with some pretty impressive studies and statistics.
However, advocates for the practice point out that lane splitting allows for motorcyclists to maneuver to escape from dangerous situations.
They have an ally in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, whose position is that “a motorcycle’s narrow width can allow it to pass between lanes of stopped or slow-moving cars on roadways where the lanes are wide enough to offer an adequate gap. This option can provide an escape route for motorcyclists who would otherwise be trapped or struck from behind. There is evidence that traveling between lanes of stopped or slow-moving cars on multiple-lane roads (such as interstate highways) slightly reduces crash frequency compared with staying within the lane and moving with other traffic….it appears to be worthy of further study because it offers a means of reducing congestion in addition to possible safety benefits. It is widely used in many other countries.”
Wired Magazine agrees, pointing out that California has a lot fewer deaths from cars rear-ending motorcycles than other states.
Veteran motorcyclists also note that, because motorcycle engines are air-cooled, lane splitting provides a means of keeping the bike from overheating while sitting in a traffic jam, especially in states with hot summer temperatures.
Should Massachusetts Make Lane Splitting Legal?
This question, of course, is completely up to the citizens of Massachusetts. Certainly many motorcyclists would like to see it made legal, so Bay Staters will simply have to look at the facts and decide if the benefits of lane splitting outweigh the potential risks.
Video via flickr (Steve Lyon)