A new California bill that defines and regulates lane splitting in the state has prompted other states, including North Carolina, to consider renewing attention to this debate.
Lane splitting – aka lane sharing or white-lining – is when a motorcyclist or scooter cuts between lanes of slower-moving traffic, or pulls in front of stopped traffic at a red light.
It is currently illegal to split lanes in North Carolina and in every other state except California. If you have ever driven on the Hollywood Freeway in Los Angeles or the Oakland Bridge in San Francisco, you can at least understand why California allows lane splitting. Nothing moves because these and many other California roadways are often idling bumper to bumper. Sitting on a hot bike in bumper-to-bumper traffic can be a miserable experience.
Lane splitting is deemed by some to be safe, if done by experienced and safety-minded motorcyclists. Others disagree, insisting that there is too much potential for catastrophe.
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Pros and Cons of Lane Splitting
A 2015 study by the University of California Berkeley found that the risks of lane splitting can be somewhat mitigated under certain circumstances. For example, the study found that splitting is safest at 50 mph and under and also if motorcyclists traveled at a speed difference no greater than 15 mph than surrounding traffic.
Advocates point out that lane-splitting can help prevent motorcycles from becoming a stationary target in the event of an accident, particularly rear end accidents. California does have slightly fewer fatalities from rear-end collisions per registered motorcycle than other states, although there is no research to support why.
Some say lane splitting can be good for drivers, too, because it can help to reduce traffic congestion and carbon emissions from idling in traffic.
Opponents, on the other hand, make some worthwhile points about the potential dangers inherent in this practice – most of these dangers originating from other drivers.
- Unexpected doors opening
- Sudden lane changes from other vehicles
- Vision impairment around large trucks
- Collisions with turning vehicles
- Too high of speed differentials when splitting lanes.
There’s one caveat to the Berkeley study that opponents emphasize. It found that of the motorcyclists involved in nearly 6,000 collisions in California, 17% had been lane splitting.
Consequences of Lane Splitting in North Carolina
The motorcycle accident rate nationally is significant when compared to cars — motorcyclists are 29 times more likely to be killed in a wreck, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Still, the California bill, in combination with the potential benefits of easing traffic congestion, has made lawmakers in other states, including ours, open to considering this practice.
One of the primary challenges of legalizing lane splitting in North Carolina is that drivers may not be prepared for the change. This could lead to an upsurge of motorcycle accidents, which could result in even more injuries and fatalities – at least initially.
There are legitimate arguments for and against this practice. On a personal note, about the only time I could see myself even considering lane splitting would be if traffic were at a complete standstill. Regardless of where you fall in this discussion, I hope you have safe and enjoyable ride!