Is It Safer for Motorcycles to Split Lanes?

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It is common knowledge that motorcyclists face the most significant risk of any vehicle type on the road. Motorcyclists are more likely to suffer crippling injuries when in an accident because their bodies are fully exposed to roadway conditions. 

Some motorcyclists claim that splitting lanes – driving between lanes of traffic, usually along the painted lines in the road – gives them an extra layer of protection because it is harder for cars to rear-end their vehicles. Others claim that this puts motorcyclists in a dangerous position where a vehicle may switch lanes only to run into a motorcyclist in their blind spot. 

UC Berkeley decided to take this age-old debate from the motorcycle community and test it by analyzing car crash data, and what they found is shocking.

The Science

UC Berkeley compared several databases collecting data on motorcycle-involved collisions and gathered statistics that the American Motorcycle Association shared. Berkeley found that riders who split lanes were less likely to be struck from behind in a crash. In fact, only 997 out of 6,000 motorcycle accidents involved splitting lanes: that’s about 16 percent.

Not only that, but splitting lanes actually protected motorcyclists from severe injury. They were 6 percent less likely to suffer head trauma, 10 percent less likely to have a chest cavity injury, and 1.8 percent less likely to die in a car crash. 

However, these numbers do not account for what the motorcyclists were wearing. Riders who split lanes are 14 percent more likely to wear full protective gear when riding. This implies that those who engage in lane splitting are more comfortable with their motorcycle and better understand the hazards from their decision.

Speaking of hazards, it seems that the biggest threat to motorcyclist’s safety is out of their control. The American Motorcycle Association has listed stop-and-go traffic as the main cause of  danger to motorcyclists on the road. This is due to high congestion and overstimulation combined with the smaller size of a motorcycle means that drivers are more likely to miss the motorcycle in their blind spot. 

“Motorcyclists, car drivers, truck drivers – everyone needs to be alert and aware of the others around them to keep our roads safe,” says Jason Schneider, a personal injury attorney from Schneider Hammers.

Overall, UC Berkeley found that lane-splitting is relatively safe as long as the rider is driving at or below 50 miles per hour. They are also much safer when the rider drives within 15 miles per hour of the speed limit. 

The Law
Thanks to these statistics, the United States seems to be taking steps towards legalizing lane-splitting. Currently, several states have no legislation on lane-splitting, meaning that the action is neither legal or illegal. The states without legislation include Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, and West Virginia. 

However, some states have legislation that expressly makes lane-splitting illegal. Connecticut, Maryland, Oregon, Washington, and Washington D.C. are considering rescinding their legislation or adding new laws. California is the only state that has outright legalized lane-splitting, with Utah passing legislation in 2019 that allowed lane-splitting under specific conditions. 

These actions of legalization have already brought improvements in society. After California passed AB-51, the Governor’s Highway Safety Association reported a 30 percent decline in fatal motorcycle accidents in the state. 

The national average for motorcyclist fatalities has also seen a drop of 8.6 percent, but this decrease is not experienced equally across the United States. While Washington D.C. has seen a 66.7 percent drop in motorcycle fatalities, there has been a 175 percent increase in Rhode Island. Implementing these lane-splitting laws may help with keeping the fatality number low. 

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