Gwilliam Ivary Chiosso Cavalli & Brewer

What are the benefits of motorcyclists splitting lanes?

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Only when every driver is courteous, cautious and alert are California's streets and highways reasonably safe. Unfortunately, sometimes it's hard to tell that everybody is on the same "team" when it comes to traffic safety.

A big example is the long-running feud between motorcycle riders and people driving cars and trucks. It seems like whenever there is a collision between a motorcycle and a four-wheeled vehicle, two camps emerge: those who blame the rider and those who say the driver was at fault. Many of these terrible crashes occur when a rider is attempting to split lanes.

California and lane-splitting

California is unique in that it's the only state in the U.S. to tolerate lane splitting. It's not officially legal, but it isn't against the law either; the California Highway Patrol considers it acceptable. Lane splitting is legal in parts of Australia and Southeast Asia.

For those who don't know, lane splitting is when a motorcyclist rides between the lanes going the same direction on the highway. Riders do it to bypass traffic jams. Supporters say that it is also a safety measure. Getting caught in stop-and-go traffic increases a rider's chances of getting hit by a distracted driver, according to the American Motorcyclist Association.

However, lane splitting is not without risk. If a driver changes lanes without checking behind themselves first, they could move directly into a motorcycle's path. Even the most experienced riders might be unable to avoid life-threatening injuries in this scenario.

Moving toward official legalization

Still, California is slowly drifting toward officially legalizing land splitting. A new law has empowered CHP to come up with guidelines in the event such legalization ever happens. Those guidelines are still in development, but in the past CHP has recommended only splitting lanes when traffic has dropped to 30 mph or slower, and not riding faster than 10 mph when between lanes, the San Diego Union Tribune reports.

Legalizing lane splitting would probably have little effect on motorcyclists, given that CHP already allows it. But it may make four-wheeled motorists more careful on the highway. Knowing that riders have the right to slip between lanes could make drivers check over their shoulders a little more carefully before they change lanes.

No 'minor' accidents for motorcyclists

Noticing motorcycles is the duty of every driver. There is virtually no such thing as "fender-benders" for riders. Even getting hit at relatively low speeds can cause serious harm, including:

  • Broken bones
  • Internal bleeding
  • Brain injury
  • Neck or spinal injury

Victims are often left permanently disabled, unable to support themselves financially and facing years of difficult, expensive rehabilitation. This is one of the reasons the law holds drivers who recklessly cause motorcycle accidents financially accountable for their conduct.

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