8 Ball In The Wind

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Lane Sharing Explained Part 1 An Introduction

Lane Sharing is simply described as the practice of motorcycles passing through slow moving or stationary traffic by utilizing the space between lanes of traffic moving in the same direction.  The image above provides a reasonable representation.  As depicted above; when lane sharing is allowed, more vehicles are able to utilize the same pavement area enabling more vehicles to move through congestion overall.  Lane Splitting is the same practice, only at highway speeds and above.  While Lane Filtering is this technique practiced on city streets to "filter' up through traffic to intersections.

It seems as if, even when presented with the studies showing the effectiveness of lane sharing,  some legislators and others simply refuse to believe it.  So I am taking this time to explain the practice in as simple a way as I can.  All while including ample supporting information.  Not so much in the belief that it will be sufficient to convince everyone, but to at least give them references to research and discover the truth for themselves.

Riding a motorcycle is an inherently dangerous thing.  Riders don't have 'crumple zones', we have perhaps some leather to protect us.  It is up to the rider to take control of our own safety.  After all, it is the rider that must pay the inevitable price for our actions, not some lawmaker.  By taking control of our own actions and options for moving through traffic, motorcyclists can help insure our own protection in the moment.  In the end, it is our own riding skills that we must rely on to protect ourselves.  We have to be constantly vigilant for the actions of other drivers that could lead to our injury or death.  This is just one of the reasons I am an active proponent of lane sharing on Washington State's highways.

In 2011, Dr. J.V. Ouellet, a co-author of what has been called the most in-depth study on motorcycle traffic safety of the 20th Century, the Hurt Study, published a study entitled "Lane Splitting on California Freeways".  In this study, among other things, the data from the Hurt Report was compared to new research performed by Dr. Ouellet's team.  It was found that the conditions under which lane sharing occur conformed quite closely to that from the late 1970's.  Dr. Ouellet also found that lane sharing activity decreased as freeway traffic speeds increase.  With a quite definite decrease above 40 mph.  Also, motorcycle crashes involving lane sharing account for a very small number (less than 1%) of all motorcycle crashes.  In the 1970's research for the Hurt Report only 0.6% of motorcycle crashes involved lane sharing.  In the European report MAIDS (Motorcycle Accident In-Depth Study) which studied crashes in Europe during 1999-2000 the percentage of lane sharing involved crashes was only 0.4%.  

One of the prime arguments many of those who oppose lane sharing is the risk of the motorcyclists being hit by a vehicle that suddenly changes lane in front of the motorcycle.  The following is a quote from Dr. Ouellet's study that addresses that concern directly.  "The risk that a car might change into the motorcycle's path does not disappear when the rider is maintaining a normal position.  Most motorcycle/car crashes occur when a car driver fails to see a motorcycle, and making an unsafe lane change after failing to see a motorcycle in an adjacent lane is just another variation on the common problem.  In addition to the risk of a lane-change crash, motorcyclists in a normal lane position face the risk of a rear-end collision, with the motorcycle striking the rear of the vehicle ahead or being struck from behind by a vehicle following it too closely."

A rider maintaining normal lane position has little or no ability to affect whether a car in an adjacent lane will intrude into the motorcycle's space.  The motorcyclist is entirely reliant on the car drivers's vigilance and judgement.  A vulnerability that strikes the very heart of the great majority of motorcycle/car crashes.

To put it simply, data suggests that lane sharing may be safer than NOT lane sharing.   If this finding is valid, then laws restricting and effectively banning lane sharing could easily be having the unintended result of increasing the risk of motorcycle crashes.  Thereby increasing the risk of serious injury or death.  Consider it objectively and see what you think.  I'll be covering the 2014 & 2015 University of California Berkeley studies on the practice in an upcoming post, so keep your eyes open for it.

Catch ya on the road sometime...

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