Is Lane Splitting Safe?

Lane Splitting Safety

Facts and Figures on This Hot Topic

The lane-sharing law that passed the Washington State Senate earlier this year is stalled in the House and probably won’t pass this year. However, it may be an idea whose time has come.

When people debate practices like lane-splitting, they often don’t know the facts. Seeing (or even thinking about) bikers swerving between lanes of fast-moving traffic would make most people nervous. The law proposed in Washington would certainly not permit that, but many of the folks who commented about it on the Eagle Leather Facebook page did have safety concerns.

California law doesn’t mention lane-splitting, so it is legal there. The California Department of Traffic Safety and The Safe Transportation Research and Education Center - University of California, Berkeley commissioned research consultants Ewald and Wasserman to study lane-sharing. They interviewed over seven hundred motorcyclists and nearly a thousand automobile drivers at gas stations in twelve counties split between Northern and Southern California. The data they found could be compared with data from 2012 and 2013. Most of the motorcyclists were men (95%) between the ages of 25 and 54 (74%) and over half of them used their bikes to commute.

Just over eighty percent of the motorcyclists said they lane-split on freeways; almost all of the riders in San Francisco country lane-split on freeways; in San Diego county just 65% of the respondents did so. About a third of them always lane-split on freeways. Younger men lane-split more often than older men and men lane-split more often than women; but the more a motorcyclists rides, the more often he or she lane-splits. Three-fourths of the responders said they lane-split on other multi-lane roads.

About two-thirds of the motorcyclists only lane-split when traffic was moving less than thirty miles per hour. Others lane-split at higher speeds, or “only when it was safe.”

Looking at just the last year, almost five percent of riders said they had been hit while lane-splitting on freeways. Nearly two percent had hit a vehicle and another twenty percent had almost hit another vehicle. Over a quarter of them just hit a car mirror, but another quarter had minor injuries and ten percent had severe injuries like broken bones. On other roads, only fifteen percent had accidents or near misses and none of them involved serious injury.

Lane-splitting motorcyclists identified what they thought was the worst hazard while lane splitting. About a third of them said drivers who were using a cell phone or texting, another thirty percent identified drivers who didn’t see them in their rear view mirrors, nearly six percent more just specified distracted drivers. Other hazards were: changing lanes and not signaling; cars stopping the motorcyclist from lane-splitting; aggressive drivers; open car doors; big trucks; narrow lanes or poor road surfaces; and drunk drivers. Over half the motorcyclists had had cars try to stop them from lane-splitting in the last year.

Only about sixty percent of the automobile drivers knew it was legal to lane-split. On freeways, over three percent of drivers had been hit and about a quarter nearly hit by a lane-splitting motorcycle in the last year. The majority involved hitting the mirror, just scraping the side, or hitting the bumper. In eight percent of the incidents, the car knocked down the motorcycle. Twelve percent of drivers had seen a collision between car and lane-splitting motorcycle.

Almost a quarter of the drivers who approved of lane-splitting approved because it reduces traffic congestion. Of those who disapproved, over half thought it was unsafe and 6.8% were startled by it. Nearly four percent of the drivers had tried to prevent a motorcyclist from lane-splitting; about a half of those because they thought it unsafe for various reasons and another twenty percent because they thought it was unfair that the motorcycle was getting ahead of them. About twelve percent did so because they were startled.

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