Lane Splitting and Safety

As a driver who has never ridden a motorcycle on the street, I’ve never understood the frustration many motorcyclists show towards laws against lane splitting, so I took it upon myself to learn about the other side.

First, a quick definition. Lane Splitting (sometimes referred to as Lane Filtering) is when a motorcyclist goes between lanes of traffic moving in the same direction, usually to get through traffic jams. This is illegal in many, but not all, of the states in the United States and is legal in many places around the world.

I’ve always thought this was dangerous behavior due to the risk of a car suddenly changing lanes or, in the case of a complete standstill, a car door opening.

Over time, I’ve come across a number of videos on YouTube where motorcyclists are lane splitting, sometimes with them being ticketed. When they’re ticketed, it’s always followed up by frustration about how lane splitting is safer for a motorcyclist than sitting in traffic like a car.

I couldn’t understand how this could be the case, given the risks associated with lane splitting. A few minutes of searching showed exactly why: the risk of being rear-ended. Naturally, being rear-ended on a motorcycle is a much more severe accident than in a car. When a motorcyclist is lane splitting, they surround themselves in a cushion of slow-moving or stopped traffic, effectively eliminating the risk of being rear-ended.

New Atlas highlights a Berkely study showing the benefits:

In a recent Berkeley study undertaken with the California Highway Patrol’s assistance, 7,836 motorcycle crashes were examined closely, with some 1,163 of these crashes having occurred while the rider was lane splitting.

Riders who were splitting at the time of their accident were significantly less likely to be injured in every category than those who weren’t: 45 percent fewer head injuries, 21 percent fewer neck injuries, 32 percent fewer torso injuries, 12 percent fewer arm/leg injuries, and 55 percent fewer fatalities.

Of note, this additional safety only applies at low speeds:

The data also shows that the safest way to lane split is to travel at less than 30 mph, and less than 10 mph above the speed of the surrounding traffic. Injury rates leap up in all categories when both of these conditions are violated.

Beyond the safety benefits, lane splitting helps all traffic move faster as it minimizes the number of vehicles in the traffic jam.

If you see people supporting something, but you can’t comprehend why, a little searching can go a long ways. While I previously found lane splitting to be frustrating, I now understand the other side and would support law changes to make lane splitting legal for motorcycles under certain speeds.


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