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Bill 5623, which allows motorcyclists to pass very slow or stalled traffic, passed by the Washington State Senate on March 7. The original bill would have allowed lane splitting—motorcycles would have been allowed to go between two lanes of traffic going in the same direction or on the right-hand shoulder when the cars were going 25 miles an hour or less.
One of the bill’s sponsors, state Senator Tim Sheldon amended the bill to allow motorcyclists to pass on the left of the leftmost lane, but not to drive between lanes of cars. This change met the objection by other senators that seeing a motorcycle between lanes might startle drivers and thus lead to accidents. Once it was amended, the bill passed 35 to 24.
Motorcycles may only go ten miles an hour faster than the car traffic according to the bill. That isn’t much faster, but it allows riders to avoid being rear-ended and cuts chances of overheating while idling. The bill also states that drivers who try to stop riders from passing this way are guilty of a driving infraction.
The legislation is bi-partisan. Senator Sheldon, from Potlatch, is a Democrat. The leading sponsor of companion Bill 1515 in the House is Drew MacEwen, a Republican from Union.
During hearings, Larry Walker of the Washington Road Riders Association asserted that lane-splitting would save lives. “I do not want to get hit, but if I have to make the choice, I will take the 10 mph nick above the 60 mph rear-ender,” he said.
Although California is the only state where lane-splitting is permitted (there is no law forbidding it), it’s common in Europe and Asia.
California is the only state where lane-splitting is permitted. The law there doesn’t say it’s allowed but doesn’t say it’s prohibited, so riders do it. Brian Lange from ABATE of Washington cited studies done in those countries that showed that crashes while lane-splitting resulted in half the head injuries and fatalities of other crashes. In the European Union, he said, lane splitting was involved in less than a half-percent of collisions.
But Shelly Baldwin of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission pointed out that in the last four years, motorcycles have been rear-ended only 21 times. More often, she testified, motorcycles rear-end cars.
The bill must still pass the House, where it is in committee, and then be signed into law. If you have an opinion on this law, contact your Representative. It’s easy. Just click here. The Representatives are listed alphabetically. Just click on “email” and you’ll see a form you can use. You can use CTRL-F and enter the district number in the little box that pops up in the top right if you know what district you live in. And if you don’t know that, go to the map here, enter your address and you’ll get the legislative district number.
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