Lane splitting, the practice of passing traffic in the space between two lanes, is practiced by motorcyclists in many states. Although police may overlook it, lane splitting is often against the law. California is currently considering a bill that would allow motorcyclists to engage in lane splitting, reasoning that the practice may actually improve safety. Should Maine follow suit?
California’s New Lane Splitting Bill
California’s lane splitting bill is currently known as “AB 51.” It was sponsored by Assembly member Bill Quirk, a democrat. The bill not only legalizes lane splitting, it also authorizes guidelines intended to improve safety. Under the bill, motorcycle lane splitting would be defined as “driving a motorcycle, that has 2 wheels in contact with the ground, between rows of stopped or moving vehicles in the same lane.” The bill also gives the Department of California Highway Patrol the authority to establish lane splitting guidelines in collaboration with the Office of Traffic Safety, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Is It Safe?
According to recent research conducted by the University of California Berkeley, lane splitting may actually improve safety for motorcyclists and other drivers on the road. The study reviewed the circumstances of 5,969 motorcycle crashes occurring between June 2012 and August 2013, 997 of which involved lane splitting. The study found that Lane Splitting Motorcyclists:
- Are more likely to be riding during commuting hours
- Traveled at lower speeds and wore higher quality helmets
- Were less likely to be carrying a passenger
When collisions did occur, lane-splitting motorcyclists were less likely to suffer an injury than motorcyclists who were not lane splitting. Here’s the prevalence of various injuries:
- Fatal injury- 1.2% for lane splitting motorcyclists, 3% for non lane-splitting motorcyclists.
- Injury to extremities- 60% for lane splitting motorcyclists, 66% for non lane-splitting motorcyclists.
- Torso injury- 19% for lane splitting motorcyclists, 29% for non lane-splitting motorcyclists.
- Head injury- 9% for lane splitting motorcyclists, 17% for non lane-splitting motorcyclists.
The researchers also found that the frequency of injury was connected to traffic speed, motorcycle speed and speed differential (the difference between motorcycle speed and traffic speed) at the time of the accident. The rate of injury increased significantly when traffic speed exceeded 50 MPH. Speed differentials in excess of 15 MPH were also associated with higher rates of injury.
Should Maine Consider Legal Lane Splitting?
Based on the results of the study described above, motorcycle lane splitting may be reasonably safe when traffic is moving at no more than 50 MPH and when motorcyclists don’t exceed the speed of traffic by more than 15 MPH. In addition, some of the results of the study indicate that motorcycle lane splitting may even lower the risk of injury for motorcyclists. Perhaps Maine should consider following California’s lead, including establishing formal guidelines for safe lane splitting.
Motorcyclists have the same rights as all other drivers on the road, and many motorcycle accidents are the fault of another motorist. If you have been injured in a motorcycle accident, you may be entitled to compensation for your medical bills and other damages. Fales & Fales is ready to talk to you about pursuing a claim against the party responsible for your accident.