A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Lane splitting: Experience says yes

Written March 26th, 2017 by Hasso Hering

From the files: A motorcyclist splits the lanes on I-5 south of Los Angeles in October 2014.

The Judiciary Committee of the Oregon Senate held two days of hearings last week on SB 385, which would allow lane splitting by motorcycle riders when traffic is at a standstill, or nearly so. Unlike the opposition, testimony in favor of the bill was persuasive because it was based on experience and practical concerns.

Experienced motorcyclists and their associations support the bill because it allows riders to avoid congestion, thus making commuting by motorcycle in urban areas more attractive. Also, it keeps motorcyclists from burning their legs on hot exhausts as they are forced to stand still in traffic jams while their air-cooled engines are idling.

Opposition came from a trucking association, which fears that motorcyclists would be squashed between trucks that are moving side by side. Triple-A also is opposed, citing safety concerns, as is the Oregon Department of Transportation. But reading their testimony, it strikes me that their fears are based more on supposition than experience..

The bill would allow lane splitting only on multilane highways when traffic stands still or moves at less than 10 miles an hour. And motorcyclists moving between vehicles would be limited to 20 mph. The opponents worry that motorbikes would collide with vehicles changing lanes. But sudden lane changes are a stupid move and dangerous whether there’s a motorcycle in the way or another car. Worrying about lane splitting in this situation is like prohibiting driving through an intersection because somebody might run the stop sign on the cross street.

Testimony in favor of the bill was marked by experience. A Portland resident named Brian Edwards testified he grew up in California, the only state where lane splitting is legal. He had a job in Costa Mesa and bought a house in Riverside, 45 miles away, because housing was less expensive there. Most days he commuted on his motorcycle, which allowed him to get through the ever-present congestion. He logged 60,000 miles on his motorbike, without a problem. That man clearly knew the benefits of lane spitting when the freeway becomes a parking lot.

Another witness, Paula Leslie, testified as a representative of ABATE, the group that promotes motorcycle safety, awareness and education. She pointed out the physical hazards of straddling a motorcycle that is forced to sit in a traffic jam. The exhaust pipes on many motorbikes are positioned so as to cause burns when riders are forced to put their feet down for long periods. To prove her point, she showed the committee photos of burn holes in her motorcycle pants.

The backers cited a 2015 study by the traffic safety center of UC-Berkeley. In a letter to a California assemblyman, lead researcher Thomas Rice said he had studied 6,000 motorcyclists who had been in collisions, including nearly 1,000 who had been lane-splitting at the time of their crashes. He found that compared to other motorcyclists, the lane-splitters were using better helmets, traveling at lower speeds, more often riding on weekdays and during commuting times, less often carrying passengers, less often under the influence of alcohol, and less likely to be hurt or killed.

As for accidents, “there was no meaningful increase in injury incidence until traffic speed exceeded roughly 50 mph,” and “speed differentials of up to 15 mph were not associated with changes in injury occurrence.”

The opponents of the Oregon bill worry about what might happen. But they can’t possibly know because it’s not allowed. The California experience says that if done within the limits spelled out in the Oregon bill, lane spitting is less risky or dangerous than motorcycling in general. Which is why the Senate should approve this bill and the House should do the same. (hh)

12 responses to “Lane splitting: Experience says yes”

  1. Terry says:

    Stupidest idea yet!

  2. Craig Z. says:

    Completely stupid idea. I have been riding motorcycles for 46 years. Many large cruisers with saddle bags and large fairing and full body bikes would barely fit between vehicles when splitting lanes. Take a big F150 with trailer mirrors or a semi… the lane is full. One off center driver or a lane change, momentary lapse of awareness and you are road kill. Drivers not use to this practice are also easily startled. When I have seen illegal Lane splitting done here and splitting in California…It is at high speeds and reckless. Using the excuse if burned legs is just that, a rediculous excuse. Life is precious. As a Police Officer I have seen the mangled bodies. Riding motorcycles is a blast and should be fun. You can only enjoy it if you are alive.

    • Ian Turner says:

      Give the rider the choice. Support this Bill. You don’t have to do it, but don’t stop others.

  3. Jerry says:

    I’ve been riding for 50 years and feel strongly that splitting lanes is much safer than being in stop and go traffic. The risk of getting hurt at 20mph or less while splitting is much lower than getting squashed between 2 cars because the person behind you is texting. Traffic on the freeways in the Portland metro area is often stop and go and I see many people looking down and texting and even more on their hand held mobile phones. Truckers and other drivers don’t suffer much if they’re rear ended at 10-20mph. Think about getting hit by 2 tons of vehicle while sitting stopped on your bike. The law doesn’t require riders to split lanes. Don’t do it if you are uncomfortable with it or if your bike is too wide. The California study proves that it is safer.

  4. Tony White says:

    Testimony based on supposition rather than “experience and practical cocerns?” Really. Here’s a supposition for you: the motorcyclists (of which I was one for ten or fifteen years) just want to move through traffic they consider too slow for them, regardless of safety concerns. So let’s just wait until we have a few deaths from this ill-advised circumvention of the law, then we can base its repeal on some more “experience.” Common sense says you don’t need to have experience to know that if you hold a loaded gun to your head and pull the trigger, the results won’t be pleasant.

    • Shane says:

      “So let’s just wait until we have a few deaths from this ill-advised circumvention of the law”
      How would it be circumventing the law if it was made legal?
      I’ve been riding 25 years, would much rather take my chances slowly riding in between vehicles than being hit from behind at 40 mph.
      The idea with traffic is to keep it moving, so if there is room for motorcycles to keep moving then they should be allowed to do so.
      Whether they admit it or not, the people who have a problem with this law are the ones who cannot stand to have someone pass them while they are stuck in traffic.

  5. Ray Kopczynski says:

    “The California experience says that if done within the limits spelled out in the Oregon bill, lane spitting is less risky or dangerous than motorcycling in general. Which is why the Senate should approve this bill and the House should do the same.”

    That is “common sense” too…

  6. hj.anony1 says:

    Preferential treatment for the two tires? Like school kids cutting in ahead. Can’t one stay in their lane, in their line? Sure seems like special treatment. Two wheeled hall pass.

    What happens when two wheeled bikers cut back in ….ahead? Recipe for road rage?

    Things I ponder…

    • Shane says:

      It is supposed to be for rider safety and to help with traffic congestion. If any part of the traffic can move it should. Your reasoning is childish.

    • Ian Turner says:

      Brussels did a study. If 10% of motorcyclists filtered, you would cut all travel times by 25%.

  7. Ian Faulks says:

    It is a good idea and can be done successfully.
    Australian States and Territories are progressively implementing lane filtering (see: https://theconversation.com/new-road-rules-when-can-motorcyclists-beat-the-traffic-24898).
    Thus far, the change in the road rules has been smooth and without difficulty.
    In 2014, I wrote: “For those drivers who are not in the habit of monitoring the traffic around them and who may not be fully situationally aware, there will be a need for public education to ensure that they know what to expect.” This, I would suggest, is an issue to be addressed – in a current study of motorcyclists’ experiences with lane filtering, riders are reporting that some car drivers remain unaware of the change in law (after almost 3 years!).

    • Ray Kopczynski says:

      “…drivers who are not in the habit of monitoring the traffic around them and who may not be fully situationally aware…”

      When so-called “adults” have their ears & eyes glued to a cell phone while driving, why should we expect anything different?


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