Is Lane-Splitting Safe?
If you’ve found yourself in California traffic, you’ve likely seen a motorcyclist driving between you and the car in the lane next to you. This is called “lane-splitting.” While this practice is legal, many Californians are asking: Is lane-splitting safe?
The Basics of Lane-Splitting
Lane splitting describes when motorcyclists drive on the line between lanes. California is unique because it is the only U.S. state where lane-splitting is legally recognized and protected under the law. While some states have a more agnostic view on lane-splitting (not mentioning it directly in any of their laws), it is expressly illegal in 30 states.
Lane-splitting is common in many other parts of the world, and traffic engineers have studied its impact. When motorcyclists use lane-splitting, they reduce traffic congestion and vehicle emissions. Lane-splitting also decreases the chances of motorcyclists being rear-ended in a crash.
Risks and Rewards of Lane-Splitting
It should be noted that while lane-splitting is legal, it is only recommended at speeds under 30 MPH. Lane-splitting is meant to decrease congestion when drivers are in standstill traffic. It should not be used to weave between lanes when traffic is moving at standard highway speeds.
That said, data suggests that lane-splitting can help make motorcycle riding safer. In a 2015 study at UC Berkeley, researchers found that motorcyclists were far less likely to be struck from behind and had a lower risk of catastrophic injuries as a result of lane-splitting. The study did find that lane-splitting was a factor in 15% of motorcycle crashes, but this number could be reduced if lane-splitting was done only at 50 MPH or less and if motorcyclists did not exceed the speed of other vehicles by more than 15 MPH.
California does have the 22nd highest fatality rate for motorcycle riders, but it is difficult to assess the effect of lane-splitting on the fatality rate. Studies do suggest that if done safely, the benefits of allowing lane-splitting outweigh the risks. Drivers also can make a difference in motorcycle safety by always checking their mirrors and blind spots whenever changing lanes.