Lane splitting or filtering is the practice of motorcycles riding on the separating lines between highway lanes. There are many pros and cons to lane splitting, making it a controversial issue. California became the first state to formally legalize lane splitting, when Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 51 into law. While it is legal in some countries such as India and Indonesia, in many others it is not. A recent petition seeks to make lane splitting legal in North Carolina as well, so we thought we’d examine some of these pros and cons.
UC Berkeley completed a recent study that revealed some of the benefits as well as pitfalls of lane splitting. The study found that if motorcycles and cars are sharing the same lane and going about the same speed (50 mph or less) it was “surprisingly safe", but if there was a 15 mph speed differential between the vehicles, "the risk of injury rose significantly.”
According to the study, bikers who split lanes are less likely to receive head or torso injuries and are nearly half as likely to experience a fatal injury. The study also showed that motorcyclists who split lanes tend to be safer drivers than those who do not. Lane splitters are more likely to be wearing a full helmet, drive at generally lower speeds and are more likely to be driving a motorcycle as their primary mode of transportation.
On the other hand, the same UC Berkeley study referenced above found that 1/6th of the motorcycle accidents they examined in California from June 2012 through August 2013 involved lane splitting. All told, California lane splitting riders were in 996 accidents during that period. Increasing the potential danger is the fact that some motorcyclists do not know how to properly split lanes. Lane splitting should be done going 10 mph or slower than the traveling speed of surrounding traffic. Sadly, some riders zip through lanes at a very fast rate which scares the drivers they pass. This behavior becomes unwelcomed by all drivers, and in turn reflects badly on motorcycle riders.
A recent petition in North Carolina seeks to make lane-splitting legal. As of now, there is no law that points toward the action being legal or illegal, which as the petition points out “causes inconsistent outcomes in court regarding injuries, crashes, or other litigation pertaining to lane splitting.” If the petition is successful, the laws regarding lane splitting would clearly be defined. There would likely be restrictions on the types of vehicles that are allowed to split lanes, and there would likely be speed restrictions on the maximum velocity a motorcycle can travel while splitting lanes. The petition currently has 1,032 signatures and can be read on Change.org. In the near future it will be presented to the Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina, Dan Forest.