Five states pursue rules permitting lane splitting

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 2/20/2015

Driving in California can often be described as an experience you don’t get anywhere else in the country. One example is motorcyclists who ride between lanes of freeway traffic to bypass congestion. But if state lawmakers in multiple states get their way, the practice could soon be permitted elsewhere.

The Golden State is the only place in the country that allows so-called lane splitting with motorcycles. State law does not address the practice.

Until last summer, the California Highway Patrol and California Department of Motor Vehicles posted on their websites and provided printed materials informing motorcyclists about the safety guidelines for the practice. The information was removed after a complaint that the guidelines could be misinterpreted as enforceable laws.

Assemblyman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, has introduced a bill that would set guidelines for lane splitting.

Motorcycles would be authorized to be driven between rows of stopped or slowed vehicles in the same direction if the speed of traffic is 30 mph or less. However, motorcycles could be driven no more than 10 mph in excess of the speed of traffic.

Supporters say that lane splitting saves motorcyclists time and fuel. They also point out that it helps many motorcycles avoid overheating while sitting in traffic.

AB51 is in the Assembly Transportation Committee.

Across the state line in Oregon, two Senate bills – SB172 and SB420 – would permit the practice. A separate effort in the House would authorize a similar maneuver.

HB2512 would allow motorcycles to be driven on highway shoulders during traffic jams or slowdowns. Specifically, traffic must be slowed to 25 mph or less and the motorcyclist could not exceed 30 mph to pull off the maneuver along the shoulder.

During a recent hearing in the House Transportation and Economic Development Committee, an Oregon Department of Transportation official said the agency has concerns about allowing motorcycles to attempt the move.

Troy Costales, ODOT safety division administrator, said the bill does not restrict the maneuver to interstates, freeways, or other highways with wide shoulders and controlled access. As a result, roadways that include county roads and city streets would provide this option to motorcycles.

He also pointed out that most jurisdictions around the state likely do not maintain the shoulder to the same quality as the travel lanes. Another concern he highlighted is that the bill doesn’t define traffic congestion situations that would warrant the practice.

“It could be a traffic signal that has turned red or a stop sign if there is a queue of cars.”

In neighboring Washington, the Senate Transportation Committee recently discussed a bill that would limit the practice to situations when traffic is slowed to 25 mph or less. Motorcycles could be driven no more than 10 mph in excess of the speed of traffic.

SB5623 includes a provision to ticket drivers who try to impede or prevent a motorcycle from passing.

Advocates say that giving motorcyclists the freedom to lane split, or ride the line, would reduce the likelihood of being rear ended in stop-and-go traffic.

Shelly Baldwin with the Washington Traffic Safety Commission spoke in opposition to the bill. She noted that during the past four years there were only 21 incidents statewide where motorcycles were rear ended by other vehicles.

“There’s no evidence that lane splitting would have prevented any of these incidents,” Baldwin said.

She said it is more common for motorcycles to rear end other vehicles.

In Texas, multiple bills would permit the practice when traffic is slowed to 20 mph or less on controlled access highways. Motorcyclists could not be driven more than 5 mph in excess of the speed of traffic. Motorcycle riders would also be required to wear a helmet while attempting the maneuver.

Two Tennessee bills would permit the practice in situations when traffic is slowed to 45 mph or less. Motorcyclists could be driven no more than the minimum posted speed for the roadway.

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