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Lane Splitting

  • By Fabio Martinez

Have you ever seen a motorcyclist zoom by while you were stuck in slow moving traffic? When a motorcyclist passes rows of slow or stopped vehicles by traveling between them, that’s called lane splitting. Until recently, lane splitting has not been legal or illegal, instead falling into a gray area where it was treated as acceptable by law enforcement agencies. Many question the safety of lane splitting, but for a motorcyclist it’s a game of numbers and the less time you are exposed the better your chances are of not getting hit from behind.

I live in California and it’s a common occurrence on our freeways. A quick YouTube search of “lane splitting” pulls up nerve racking videos of motorcycle after motorcycle colliding with other vehicles. Surprisingly, the U.S. Department of Transportation states that lane splitting can provide an escape route for motorcyclists who would otherwise be trapped or struck from behind.  Additionally a study by the University of California Berkeley, found that motorcyclists who split lanes are less likely to be struck by other motorists. If lane splitting is considered safe, why is it still illegal in most states? The problem lays with the government not having a standard.

Bills to legalize lane splitting have been introduced in state legislatures around the US over the last twenty years, but none had been enacted until California’s legislature passed Assembly Bill – 51 in August, 2016.  In other states, motorcyclists are still using this long-recognized riding technique to relieve traffic congestion and improve safety. But now, neither riders nor motorists have a place to turn for authoritative guidelines on the practice.  If you get pulled over by the police the likelihood of getting in trouble is dependent on whether or not they feel what you are doing is safe. The catch, of course, is that each patrolman has a different criteria for what constitutes “safe.”

Lane Splitting 101

  • Lane-splitting is essentially a hand-eye coordination activity. The operative term here is “eye.” If you don’t see what’s happening around you, you’ll never make the right move.
  • Cover the front brake lever with two fingers. If you have to stop, you’ll be able to save a bit of reaction time, which translates into distance. Stopping even one inch away from an obstruction is good.
  • Be patient at merges. Other drivers often change lanes here, trying to gain some advantage. That’s their illusion. Wait until they settle down. You, as a motorcyclist, are the only one who can really take advantage of the traffic situation.

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