I’m not a motorcycle guy. I enjoy having intact legs. That said, despite not riding one myself, there’s one motorcycle topic about which I have an opinion: Riders should be allowed to split lanes.
Anecdotally, folks I talk to about it (it doesn’t come up very often) have a sort of puzzled reaction to the idea. It just seems scary. I’ve been stuck in L.A. traffic before, and admit it seemed odd to see motorcycles splitting lanes at first. Once I knew it was legal, though, it made perfect sense to me for a few reasons.
It helps alleviate traffic. Each lane-splitting motorcycle is essentially one vehicle plucked from the traffic jam the rest of us would be sitting in. It’s something akin to lessening traffic density; even though those motorcycles are still another vehicle on the road, but their contribution to congestion is minimized.
It saves fuel. Of course, the amount of fuel saved by minimizing idling is less than it would be for a car, simply because motorcycles consume less fuel to begin with. Still, lane-splitting motorcycles do save fuel for themselves, as well as for those of us who don’t have to sit in traffic as long.
It’s been shown lane-splitting can be done safely. In California, one of the few places where lane-splitting is currently legal (though other states are considering it), the University of California Berkeley’s Safe Transportation Research & Education Center published a study about this exact topic. It found, among other conclusions, that lane-splitters were less likely to be injured in a collision than those who don’t split lanes. “Lane-splitting riders were less likely to suffer head injury (9% vs 17%), torso injury (19% vs 29%), extremity injury (60% vs 66%), and fatal injury (1.2% vs 3.0%),” the researchers concluded. The likelihood of neck injuries, though, was the same for both those who split lanes and those who didn’t.
If I were riding a motorcycle in congestion, I’d much rather have cars on either side of me than in front of and behind me. Not knowing if that car approaching from the rear will stop in time, if that bored driver behind is distracted by something. I’d love to hear from riders here, but I imagine the fear of being hit by a car changing lanes — a car you’re more likely to see coming — is a lesser threat than getting smooshed by the car directly behind you.
Of course, just as with any other driving, ensuring everyone’s safety would be the responsibility of all motorists — polite cooperation between drivers and riders. Motorcycles should only split lanes in stopped or slow-moving traffic (specifically, below 50 miles per hour, per the previously cited study), and they should keep their speed differential within 15 miles per hour of the rest of traffic (more than that is where your chances of injury begin to climb, the research concluded).
Similarly, other drivers should be courteous to motorcyclists. If you’re on an outside lane, drive toward the side of the lane so allow more room for motorcycles navigating between lanes. Check your blind spot when switching lanes, and by no means should you ever intentionally block the path of lane-splitting motorcycles. One would think that would go without saying, but judging from the number of people I see blocking open lanes miles ahead of a merge point, it’s clear there are already far too many people that will break common-sense rules or laws to enforce their own obtuse, vindictive and self-defeating versions of traffic laws (just do the zipper merge, folks!).
Again, I’m too much of a coward to ride, but my feelings toward motorcyclists are generally neutral. There’s no reason, though, to subject them to sitting in traffic if they can move along safely. When it comes to traffic, I’m also concerned with efficiency, and tools like zipper-merging and lane-splitting are more efficient than their alternatives. Share the road, and make the best use of it as you safely can. My dear riders, when and where lane-splitting is legal, I’ll do my best to look out for you and help you in helping all of us to get where we’re going quicker and more economically. I will also support legislation that gives you permission to split lanes. It just makes sense.