Without evidence of benefit, an intervention should not be presumed to be beneficial or safe.

- Rogue Medic

Motorcycles and Splitting Lanes

Motorcycle lane splitting has been a controversial and confusing subject for years, so the California Office of Traffic Safety decided to find out about the public perception of lane splitting.

Is lane splitting legal for motorcyclists in California?

The frequencies of responses is shown in Table 7, with 52.9% of all vehicle drivers stating “yes”, that lane splitting for motorcycles on freeways is legal, while 36.7% did not think it to be legal, 9.8% of all respondents did not know.[1]

The key to legal lane splitting for motorcycle riders is doing so in a safe and prudent manner, being cognizant of overall traffic speeds, speed differences, spacing and lane changing patterns of surrounding traffic. Riding too fast is one of the most common things that motorcyclists do to make lane splitting unsafe.[2]

Since lane splitting is legal in California, why do so few car and truck drivers not know that lane splitting is legal?

That was not one of the questions.

For some reason, the survey did not include a question along the lines of, Why do you mistakenly assume that lane splitting is illegal? Maybe next time. Part of this has been addressed by Dunning and Kruger,[3] but that is a topic for another time.

The survey did ask if drivers approve of motorcycles splitting lanes and asked for the reason(s) for that approval/disapproval.

The answers are interesting. The people who disapprove of motorcycles splitting lanes overwhelmingly believe think that lane splitting is unsafe. There does not appear to have been an attempt to determine how common the perception of lane splitting as unsafe is among those who mistakenly believe that lane splitting is illegal.

The other common objections mostly have to do with inattention and/or incompetence of the car/truck driver. – It startles/surprises/scares me and might cause me to crash.

Is there any information about the relative frequencies of lane splitting crashes vs. crashes while stopped in traffic?


Motorcycle Accidents In Depth Study.[4] This is far from definitive, but lane splitting is legal in 4 of the 5 participating countries. If a stopped motorcycle is 7 times more likely to be involved in a collision, is it wise to sit in traffic, or is it wiser to split lanes?

What about the outcome of these collisions?

The police officer was splitting lanes between the fast and carpool lanes when a Toyota Carolla crossed the double yellow line to exit the carpool, striking the officer and throwing him from his motorcycle.[5]

This would probably produce a much better outcome.


Image credit.

Clearly, this is safer than lane splitting crashes.


 

Why would a driver intentionally drive a lethal weapon at a motorcyclist?
 


 

If lane splitting is unsafe (in their opinion) it becomes safer by driving at the motorcyclist?

It is OK to be upset with motorcyclists for using a more efficient form of transport? Should we expect these drivers to try to block trains and planes as well? Is it really unfair for a motorcyclist to get ahead of traffic that is less practical and less efficient? Is it also unfair that doctors make more than paramedics? Aren't these the same rocket scientists who do not pull over for ambulances, because they are more important than everyone else?

If lane splitting might cause me to have an accident, how is driving at a motorcyclist making that any less likely?

Currently, lane splitting is only legal or tolerated in Oregon, Washington State, California and now, Arizona, so be sure to check out your state’s official policy on the practice before trying it yourself.[6]

Footnotes:

[1] 2012 Motorcycle ‘Lane Splitting’ Intercept Survey
California Office of Traffic Safety
Regular Vehicle Driver Responses Section
Survey download in PDF format

[2] Survey Shows What Riders and Drivers Think of Motorcycle ‘Lane Splitting’ – “Share the Road” is the Message During Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month
California Office of Traffic Safety
May 3, 2012
Press Release in PDF format

[3] Dunning-Kruger effect
Wikipedia
Article

Kruger and Dunning proposed that, for a given skill, incompetent people will:

  • tend to overestimate their own level of skill;
  • fail to recognize genuine skill in others;
  • fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy;
  • recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they can be trained to substantially improve.

[4] Excerpt from Table 5.7: PTW pre-crash motion prior to precipitating event
MAIDS (Motorcycle Accidents In Depth Study) Final Report
September 2004
European Association of Motorcycle Manufacturers
p. 49,
Free Full Text Download in PDF format

[5] Long Beach Motorcycle Cop Injured in Crash
Riderz Law
December 16, 2011
Article

[6] Lane Splitting On Your Motorcycle – Time Saver or Disaster Waiting To Happen?
August 7, 2011
by Todd Halterman
MotorcycleInsurance.com
Article

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Comments

  1. I have no doubt that drivers know little about specific rules for motorcycles. I don’t recall much about that in driver’s ed or the driver’s guide many decades ago (separate endorsements required in Washington). Most drivers would assume that lane splitting is illegal because they have been told in their state run and/or guided training that motorcycles obey the same rules as cars. Of course, that’s hardly Dunning and Kruger.

    You should also note that article on Lane Splitting (6) you cite is a bit misleading. It is illegal to split lanes in Washington. The article implies otherwise. It may be tolerated, but so is speeding and all of the other traffic violations. The police can’t or don’t cite everyone or everything.

    As for the idea that it may be safer to split lanes than to sit in traffic, does the study (or you) consider that those riders do both? So, instead of a lower risk they may actually increase their risk? The most “exciting” part of congestion is the sudden stopping, often due to lane changing.

    • MV,

      I have no doubt that drivers know little about specific rules for motorcycles. I don’t recall much about that in driver’s ed or the driver’s guide many decades ago (separate endorsements required in Washington). Most drivers would assume that lane splitting is illegal because they have been told in their state run and/or guided training that motorcycles obey the same rules as cars. Of course, that’s hardly Dunning and Kruger.

      Maybe not, but the rest is.

      The state should not be telling people that motorcycles, trucks, and automobiles obey the same rules as cars, because they don’t.

      do you wear a seatbelt when you ride a motorcycle?

      Some states require helmets for motorcyclists, but not for automobile drivers.

      Any state that has carpool lanes must allow motorcycles to use them, regardless of how many people are on the motorcycle (unless the state demonstrates that it is unsafe for motorcycles to use carpool lanes).

      Are motorcyclists required to use windshield wipers?

      Are automobile drivers required to have their headlights on at all times (some states may not require this of motorcycles, but many do)?

      Why would anyone be foolish enough to believe someone claiming that motorcyclists and car/truck drivers obey the same laws?

      Because some authority figure said so. As if we don’t have that problem in EMS, too.

      You should also note that article on Lane Splitting (6) you cite is a bit misleading. It is illegal to split lanes in Washington. The article implies otherwise. It may be tolerated, but so is speeding and all of the other traffic violations. The police can’t or don’t cite everyone or everything.

      I am not familiar with the Washington motor vehicle code. Do you have a link to the part that states that motorcyclists are prohibited from splitting lanes?

      When police tolerate speeding, it is usually up to a certain speed, or as long as the rest of traffic is travelling at a similar speed.

      All of the other traffic violations are tolerated?

      You state that lane splitting is specifically illegal for motorcyclists in Washington. Please provide a link to the regulation.

      The article seems to be very clear and at all not misleading. Read the last part in bold type.

      Currently, lane splitting is only legal or tolerated in Oregon, Washington State, California and now, Arizona, so be sure to check out your state’s official policy on the practice before trying it yourself.[6]

      Suppose you contact someone authorized to comment on the enforcement of traffic laws, as the author stated; that person states that lane splitting is tolerated; you think that would be misleading. Why?

      Suppose you contact someone authorized to comment on the enforcement of traffic laws, as the author stated; that person states that lane splitting is not tolerated; you think that would be misleading. Why?

      As for the idea that it may be safer to split lanes than to sit in traffic, does the study (or you) consider that those riders do both?

      The study only looks at crashes and analyses the causes of crashes. The survey shows that many people only split lanes some of the time.

      The more time a person spends splitting lanes, the more frequently we should expect to see lane splitting crashes and the less frequently we should expect to see crashes when the motorcyclist is not moving.

      So, instead of a lower risk they may actually increase their risk?

      Increase what risk by doing what? Please be more clear on what you are assuming.

      I don’t know of any evidence that lane splitting is as dangerous as sitting in traffic for motorcyclists.

      Please provide some evidence to support your opinion.

      People tend to think of giving morphine as dangerous, but that is clearly an example of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

      People tend to think of giving midazolam as dangerous, but that is clearly an example of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

      People tend to think of giving hig-dose nitrates as dangerous, but that is clearly an example of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

      What is dangerous is giving medication based on mythology.

      Likewise, riding a motorcycle is not made any safer by basing actions on mythology.

      The most “exciting” part of congestion is the sudden stopping, often due to lane changing.

      And yet the crash statistics do not demonstrate that your sudden lane changing is knocking down motorcyclists.

      There are ways to minimize the occurrence of surprises while driving. I don’t know how you drive, bit if you find that you are often surprised, you might consider that as feedback on the way you are driving.

      .

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