You may recall a hot summer afternoon spent inching along the highway with the air conditioning blasting, wishing for a break in the traffic so you could get home a little sooner. Then, in the rear view mirror, you see the one person who’s getting home before everyone else: a motorcyclist cruising along the yellow line between the lanes of cars. Lane splitting, as the practice is called, is the act of riding a motorcycle between lanes of cars to bypass stopped or slowed traffic. Although we’ve all witnessed it, the practice is actually illegal in Massachusetts—and in every other U.S. state, except California.
Motorcycle Lane Splitting: California’s Precedent
Lane splitting has long been standard practice in California, but a 2016 bill made the Golden State the first to officially allow motorcyclists to split lanes. To many California bikers, splitting lanes is essential: one San Francisco consultant claimed it “radically changed [his] daily commute.”
Proponents of the practice contend that lane splitting actually makes motorcyclists safer. In stop and go traffic, they argue, distracted drivers are more likely to rear-end a motorcycle, an accident that could inflict catastrophic injury on the rider. According to a report published by the University of California at Berkeley,
“… Motorcyclists who split lanes in heavy traffic are significantly less likely to be struck from behind by other motorists, are less likely to suffer head or torso injuries, and are less likely to sustain fatal injuries in a crash.”
As the argument goes, that’s because splitting lanes reduce the motorcyclist’s exposure to drivers who may be distracted in stop and go traffic.
The Pros and Cons of Lane Splitting
Analysis of the UC Berkeley study presents some interesting and unexpected findings: overall, lane-splitting motorcyclists (LSMs) present as better-equipped, more experienced riders. Notably, LSMs are more likely than non-LSMs to:
- Ride during rush hours (62% vs. 38%)
- Ride on weekdays (86% vs. 63%)
- Travel on state highways (94% vs. 66%)
- Wear full-face helmets (81% vs. 67%)
Additionally, LSMs are less likely to:
- Have used alcohol (1.2% vs 3.4%)
- Suffer head injury (9% vs. 17%), torso injury (19% vs. 29%), or fatal injury (1.2% vs. 3.0%)
- Get rear-ended (2.6% vs. 4.6%)
These statistics are compelling, but opponents of lane splitting also bring some fair points to the debate. The strongest argument against lane splitting is that the majority of drivers are not in the habit of looking for motorcycles. When a motorist changes lanes, he or she may not see a lane-splitting motorcyclist passing in the blind spot.
The Massachusetts Lane Splitting Bill
Now that California has legalized lane splitting, will the Bay State follow suit? Despite hot debate, Massachusetts legislators are considering it. In 2017, the state of Massachusetts introduced a bill to allow lane splitting in the Commonwealth. As of 2018, the joint committee on Transportation is making its investigation into the safety concerns that surround lane splitting.
How a Motorcycle Accident Attorney Can Help You
It is imperative that motorcycle riders and vehicle operators obey the rules of the road. Use common sense when you’re on your bike, and don’t ride in vehicles’ blind spots. Obey posted speed limits, and do not ride under the influence of drugs or alcohol. If you are injured in a motorcycle accident as a result of another driver’s reckless or negligent activity, contact Worcester motorcycle accident attorney Peter Ventura for a complimentary consultation.