Wednesday, April 5, 2017
OFF THE WIRE
Lane splitting becomes legal in California on New Year’s Day. It has been tolerated as “lane sharing” since the first Los Angeles freeway opened in 1940 but it has never been explicitly legal before. California is the first and only state to sanction the common sense practice of riding a motorcycle between lanes of stalled or stopped automobiles and trucks.
Outside California, at least in America, most politicians and most non-riding motorists still think lane splitting is more dangerous than sitting in traffic. The rest of the country is wrong.
In 2014 a two year study of motorcycle accidents on both freeways and surface streets commissioned by the California Office of Traffic Safety and the University of California at Berkeley found that every California rider who rides a lot splits lanes and that lane splitting does not increase the likelihood of a motorcycle accident but actually lowers the chance that a motorcyclist in traffic will be struck from behind.
The California Highway Patrol, which now has about 450 motorcycle officers – 120 of them ride Harleys – has always understood what was and wasn’t safe on a motorcycle and tried to legalize lane splitting in 2012. The CHP issued a set of “Lane Splitting General Guidelines.” The guidelines assured bikers they would not be ticketed if they did not split at more than 10 miles an hour faster than other traffic, did not split going faster than 40 miles per hour, only split in the far left lanes and used “reasonable care.”
That would have settled the issue except that a busybody named Kenneth Mandler objected that the CHP had published an “underground regulation.” So, the state police took down its list of “guidelines for safe lane splitting” and the task of defining legal versus illegal lane splitting went back to the California legislature.
The original bill authorizing lane splitting in California forbid the practice when going more than 50 miles per hour or more than 15 mph faster than traffic. Some motorcyclists objected so the bill was reworked . Both houses of the California legislature passed the bill written by Assemblymen Bill Quirk last August 4 and Governor Jerry Brown signed it two weeks later.
The bill got around the specifics of exactly what would and would not be tolerated by inserting language that would require interested parties including the CHP to work out the details. Those details will probably look a lot like the 2012 CHP guidelines.
“Existing law requires, whenever a roadway has been divided into two or more clearly marked lanes for traffic in one direction, that a vehicle be driven as nearly as practical entirely within a single lane and not be moved from the lane until the movement can be made with reasonable safety.”
“This bill would define ‘lane splitting’ as driving a motorcycle, that has two wheels in contact with the ground, between rows of stopped or moving vehicles in the same lane, as specified. The bill would authorize the Department of the California Highway Patrol to develop educational guidelines relating to lane splitting in a manner that would ensure the safety of the motorcyclist, drivers, and passengers, as specified. The bill would require the department, in developing these guidelines, to consult with specified agencies and organizations with an interest in road safety and motorcyclist behavior.”
“The Department of the California Highway Patrol may develop educational guidelines relating to lane splitting in a manner that would ensure the safety of the motorcyclist and the drivers and passengers of the surrounding vehicles. In developing guidelines pursuant to this section, the department shall consult with agencies and organizations with an interest in road safety and motorcyclist behavior, including, but not limited to, all of the following: The Department of Motor Vehicles; The Department of Transportation; The Office of Traffic Safety;” and “A motorcycle organization focused on motorcyclist safety.”Nope. The CHP has not yet issued its new set of guidelines.