In 2023, Oregon made important changes in how it deals with lane splitting on motorcycles. This has been a big debate among motorcycle riders and lawmakers, as seen with Senate Bill discussions heating up in 2021. This idea of riding between the traffic lanes has been constantly pushed by motorcyclists. They argue that it can reduce traffic congestion and make motorcyclists less vulnerable to getting rear-ended by cars.
Lane splitting is described as an act of moving forward on a motorcycle through slow or stopped traffic on a multilane road advancing in the same direction. It is done by riding between the lanes at a slightly higher speed than the traffic. While it can help motorcyclists deal with traffic congestion, it can also increase the risk of car accidents. This point was noted by then-Governor Kate Brown, and as a result, the Senate Bill in question was vetoed.
Discussions have sparked once again as the Senate Bill was approved in the Oregon Senate and now heads to the House, where members from both political parties support it as sponsors. Governor Kate Brown’s stance on this legislation has been observed. People speculate whether it will be vetoed again or whether she will allow the bill to pass. If this bill passes, Oregon will join the states of Arizona, California, Montana, and Utah, where lane splitting is legalized under some circumstances.
Understanding the Basics of Lane Splitting
Lane splitting is when a person on a motorcycle or bicycle rides between two lines of cars or between two lanes of traffic. Usually, lane splitting happens on the part of the road with white lines. But it can also happen on any road, like highways and country roads without dividers. People on motorcycles usually do lane splitting when the traffic is going very slowly or not moving at all. Motorcyclists engage in lane splitting because of their smaller vehicles compared to other vehicles present in traffic. This practice is different from usual, as usually a driver stays in their lane behind the car in front.
Why do Motorcyclists consider this practice?
The main reason why lane splitting is favored by motorcyclists is the fear of being involved in a rear-ended collision. Typically, car drivers in slow-moving traffic tend to lose attention, which can lead them to crash into motorcycles. Even the slightest contact with a car can lead to dangerous consequences for motorcycle riders.
Some people say that riding between lanes helps motorcyclists see the road better and move around more easily in traffic. They argue that it lets riders have a clearer view ahead, stay away from possible dangers, and position their bikes where there’s less traffic. It is also important to note that riding between lanes on a motorcycle is said to help save fuel and cause less pollution because it reduces the time motorcycles spend waiting in slow or stopped traffic. It also helps traffic move better because fewer vehicles are waiting for one after the other in traffic lanes.
In addition to this, if you’ve ever ridden a bike in traffic that keeps starting and stopping, you understand how annoying it is to keep changing gears, balance while moving very slowly, and put your foot down to stay upright when you stop, even if it’s just for a short while. Motorcycles are heavy, and you are physically responsible for holding them upright. These maneuvers in start-stop traffic can drain the energy out of the rider. As a result, motorcycle riders want to be able to move forward in slow traffic to avoid the dangers of traffic congestion. Lane splitting acts as an escape route for them in congested traffic. It is not surprising that motorcyclists prefer moving forward in traffic, saving time on their commute compared to the alternative that is rough on the body and could end up in a rear-ended collision.
The Legal Aspects of Motorcycle Lane Splitting
Motorcycle lane splitting is legal in a few states of the US, with some states having no clear rules about riding between lanes on a motorcycle, while in many others, there are laws that say you can’t do it. Some states are indeed considering legislation to make this practice legal.
The status of motorcycle lane splitting can be divided into three categories across various jurisdictions in the US.
States where Lane Splitting is Legal
California is considered a pioneer of motorcycle lane splitting. It has legalized lane splitting to increase the safety of motorcyclists on its congested highways. The state’s warm climate makes this practice an absolute necessity, as spending time standing still in hot weather can be physically draining. However, California’s approach is not centered on motorcyclists. It involves guidelines to ensure the safety of everyone in a vehicle. On a motorcycle, it’s best advised to ride between lanes only when traffic is going 50 mph or less. Also, it is not recommended to go faster than 15 mph while doing this. The use of turn signals and anticipating other vehicle’s movements is highly encouraged.
Similarly, Utah has also legalized lane splitting under a few circumstances. It has four main conditions,
- It can be done on any road where the speed limit is less than 45 mph. It means it is illegal to do so on freeways.
- Motorcycle speed cannot be more than 15 mph while performing this maneuver.
- The road should have two or more lanes in the same direction.
- It can only be done when the traffic is stopped.
- Lane-splitting laws in Arizona and Montana are also similar to the ones found in Utah.
States where Lane Splitting is illegal
The majority of states in the US have made it illegal to perform lane splitting. States like Alaska, Colorado, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, New York, and many more, have laws that make lane splitting illegal. States of Massachusetts and Virginia are considering legislation to make lane splitting legal.
States Without lane-splitting Laws
States such as Arkansas, Kentucky, New Jersey, and a few more, have no laws regarding law splitting. However many law enforcement officers in these states can decide what is considered a safe and legal way to ride a motorcycle. They do this on a case-by-case basis.
Exploring Why the Lane Splitting Senate Bill was Vetoed
When Governor Kate Brown vetoed the Senate Bill in 2021, she wrote to lawmakers, “Many stakeholders, including law enforcement agencies and members of the public, remain concerned that lane filtering is unsafe for both the motorcyclists and the drivers sharing the road, due to the serious injuries and death that commonly result from motorcycle-involved accidents.” Following are some common arguments given against lane splitting.
Blind Spots and Car Drivers
The topic of Lane Splitting has sparked heated discussion on various platforms. People against this idea often argue that it introduces an element of unpredictability in traffic. Motorcyclists can emerge from the driver’s blind spot which can catch the car driver off guard. Car drivers will be challenged to deal with unpredictability when motorcycles are in traffic with them. As a result, this increases the risk of collisions.
Reckless Motorcycle riding
Allowing motorcycles to maneuver through lanes of slow or stopped traffic can create a dangerous environment on the road. Some riders might engage in irresponsible behavior, such as reckless speed while shifting lanes that put everyone around them in danger. The proximity of motorcycles to cars during this practice creates a highly vulnerable situation and any miscalculation from either motorcycle rider or car driver can cause a collision.
When there is an increase in the speed of a motorcycle compared to the speed of surrounding traffic, then this phenomenon is known as Speed Differential. The difference in speed can cause miscalculations that result in collisions.
Lack of Public Awareness
Perhaps the greatest challenge in implementing lane splitting law where it is legalized, is the general opinion of the public. A study from 2014 shows that, roughly 50% of car drivers and motorcyclists in California believed either that lane splitting is illegal or being ensured about its legal status. This is the ground reality of the state where lane splitting has been legal for decades. It raises questions for lawmakers whether they should legalize it or not.
Best Practices for Lane Splitting on Motorcycle
Motorcyclists need to stay cautious and act responsibly while performing lane splitting. Following are some key advice to keep in mind while lane splitting:
Maintain Reasonable Speed
According to a study, lane splitting is considered a safe practice if the speed differential of the motorcycle is not higher than 15 mph and it is traveling in traffic of less than 50 mph. This shows that lane splitting at reasonable speeds can give drivers enough time to react to unpredictable situations.
Riding a motorcycle safely between lanes requires you to always pay close attention and be careful. As you move through the spaces between cars, you have to watch everything happening around you and predict what other drivers might do. Being vigilant means keeping a careful eye on all the vehicles, checking for sudden lane changes, car doors opening, or unexpected moves. By staying focused and alert, riders can quickly respond to any possible dangers, reducing the chances of problems while lane splitting.
Gear Up in Full Motorcycle Rider Attire
This statement should always be followed if you plan to commute on a motorcycle. If you plan on lane splitting then make sure to gear up in visible and bright attire so that you are visible to car drivers.
People in the United States still argue a lot about lane splitting. As 2023 goes on, more states might think again about what they believe about this, using facts, what people think, and what other states that already said it’s okay have experienced.
It remains to be seen what decision is made by now-Governor of Oregan, Tina Kotec. It is speculated that she might not veto the Senate Bill legalizing lane splitting on motorcycles as she voted in favor of it back in 2021 when she was House Speaker. Regardless of the final decision on the legal status of lane splitting, everyone agrees that public awareness is important on this topic. There should be interactive sessions for riders where they can educate motorcyclists regarding this practice. Only then it will be safe to legalize such road practices.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is lane splitting legal in the US?
Lane splitting is legal in a few states of the US such as California, Utah, Arizona, and Montana. The rest of the states either have no laws regarding lane splitting or it is completely unlawful.
Is lane splitting safe?
It is not sure if riding between lanes is safe or not. Some studies say it might make it less likely for cars to bump into motorcycles from behind. But other studies say it could be risky because drivers don’t expect motorcycles or bicycles to be between lanes.
Why is lane splitting legalized in some states?
People might be allowed to lane split to make traffic less crowded. It’s also allowed because it can lower the chance of motorcycles getting hit from behind when they’re waiting in traffic that’s not moving.