8 Ball In The Wind

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Lane Splitting

It sometimes makes me wonder, why virtually the entire planet allows motorcycles and scooters to split the lanes, except 49 of the 50 states in America.  Yes, the land of fruit flies and nuts, is the only state in the Union to allow lane splitting.  Albeit with some general guidelines.

The act of splitting lanes, while it may irritate automobile drivers (who studies have shown that only 53% even know that lane splitting is legal), does help with the flow of traffic.  Well, unless you're riding a big bagger with hard bags and a fairing.  If that's the case, then you are just stuck.  Because you're not going to fit between two lanes of traffic anyway.  In urban areas, motorcycles splitting lanes can help keep traffic moving as they aren't taking up a full lane area.  Allowing other vehicles to take up that space.

The CHP has issued 5 "guidelines" for safer lane splitting.  They are simple, and common sense, and if used properly lane splitting can help ease traffic flow in urban areas.  Here are the five "guidelines" per the CHP:

1.  Travel at a speed that is no more than 10 MPH faster than other traffic
2.    It is not advisable to lane split when traffic flow is at 30 mph or faster
3.   Typically, it is safer to split between the #1 and #2 lanes than between other lanes
4.   Consider the total environment in which you are splitting
5.   Be alert and anticipate possible movements by other road users 

Okay, let's take each of these five guidelines, and take a little closer look at each one.  Then, perhaps you'll see that lane splitting is a helpful thing in the urban traffic environment.

1.  Travel at a speed that is no more than 10 MPH faster than other traffic

This is really pretty basic common sense.  If you are going much over 10mph faster than the flow of traffic a couple of things tend to happen.  Both your sight lines, and reaction times start getting reduced.  Making it more difficult to avoid a sudden hazard...like the asshole in the car who decides you aren't going to pass them on your bike if they have to sit in traffic too. When splitting lanes (and I am saying this from personal experience) while it allows you some freedom of movement compared to other road users, you are still rolling along between many tons of metal whose drivers aren't going to always appreciate your not being stuck in traffic like they are.  Don't be surprised if a door suddenly flies open in front of you, or a vehicle edges into the gap between lanes cutting you off.  Also, splitting the lanes at 50mph through traffic that is stopped, or flowing at 5 or 10mph is just being an asshole, which is even more likely to get some other asshole in a cage fired up to cut you off.

2.    It is not advisable to lane split when traffic flow is at 30 mph or faster

This is just a slight variant on the first guideline.  Basically, it is saying that you shouldn't be splitting lanes when traffic is flowing normally on urban streets.  You're not going to have a lot of time to react to some idiot realizing they're in the wrong lane and changing at the last second without checking what is along side of them.  Or other such hazards.  Besides, city street speed limits tend to be 30mph or lower anyway.  On the freeway, it probably isn't a real good idea due to the fact you're going to startle some cage driver who'll swerve into you or someone else.

3.   Typically, it is safer to split between the #1 and #2 lanes than between other lanes

The furthest left lanes (#1 and #2 lanes) tend to be where traffic is flowing smoothest anyway since there aren't as many exits or other disruptions to traffic flow.  That is also why the traffic tends to move faster in those lanes.  With less opportunity for some cager to suddenly cut across lanes of traffic to hit an exit at the last possible second, you are better off splitting lanes between the "fast lanes".

4.   Consider the total environment in which you are splitting

This not only means the weather conditions, but the pavement conditions, whether it is light or dark, the width of the lane (it's a lot hard to split lanes on a 10 ft lane than a 12 ft lane...I wouldn't even try it on an 8 ft lane) or if you're riding a bike with wide bars  and saddlebags (sorry all you bagger riders...lane splitting tends to be a sport bike, smaller bike, or a chopper riders haven) and the cause of traffic slowdowns (if that is possible to know).

5.   Be alert and anticipate possible movements by other road users 

Here's that guy in the big boat SUV that is stuck in traffic and tries to squeeze into  a gap the size of a VW in the other lane because it will give him a half car length of movement forward.  Even if it makes everyone else wait.  Or the dude in the Prius who is aware of someone splitting in the other lane, and moves to give them a bit more room and cuts you off.  Then there is the ever present idiot who just has to open up the cage door and step out to see why traffic is stopped on the freeway, and doesn't even look to see if anything is coming (hey, traffic is stopped, right?).  Watch yourselves out there.

So, you may be asking yourself, if California is the only state that allows lane splitting, why am I even talking about this?  Because.  I have enjoyed the ability to move through slow and stalled traffic in California.  I know how much safer it can be in those conditions for a motorcycle rider to be able to move up between the lanes.  That allows other vehicles to creep forward, without rear ending a bike because the driver isn't paying as close attention driving at 5 mph on the freeway.  It is much safer to be able to move through traffic, and get out of the jam quicker than to sit in it and bake your air cooled motor.  Not being able to move can cause a number of safety issues for the rider in heavy stop and go traffic.  In addition to the effects of overheating and adding to the congestion and gridlock.

If you haven't guessed by now, I support the idea of making lane splitting legal in Washington state as well.  While it doesn't really make sense on rural roads, unless there is some traffic hold-up, it does work in urban areas and freeways.  Those are the same two places with the highest fatality rate among motorcyclists as well, urban areas and freeways.  Think maybe lane splitting might help that?

Catch you on the road sometime...

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