8 Ball In The Wind

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Does Banning Lane-Sharing Cost Lives?

During discussions with legislators on Washington State's legislative bill ESB5378, there seems to be three main positions of opposition:  
1) The likelihood of some motorcyclists to violate the law and lane-split at high speeds on the freeway.
2) That allowing lane-sharing will drastically increase the motorcycle fatality rate in Washington State.
3) That motor vehicle drivers will not see a lane-sharing motorcyclists, and move into the highway space that the motorcycle is in, causing a collision.

The 2011 Study by Dr. J.V. Ouellet answers these and other concerns quite eloquently and succinctly; “The principal findings of this study are: 1) the likelihood of motorcycle lane splitting decreases as freeway speeds go up and the decline appears to be especially marked at speeds above 40 mph (66 km/hr). 2) The conditions under which splitting occurs and the frequency of lane splitting appear to be roughly the same in 2011 compared to the late 1970's. 3) lane splitting crashes appear to be a tiny portion (less than 1%) of the motorcycle accident population. 4) In the 1970's, lane splitting riders were under-represented in crashes compared to their frequency in traffic and the difference was statistically significant.”  

Let's look at those findings a bit more closely, and if they are relevant to the concerns of legislators:

1) Even though as Dr. Ouellet's study suggests, lane-sharing decreases significantly at speeds above 40 mph, isn't banning lane-sharing because a small minority may violate the law by doing so at a higher speed similar to banning speed limits because some may violate the limit?
2) In both the 1970's and 2011, lane splitting was confined primarily to heavily congested traffic, during commute hours during the work weekdays.
3) As Dr. Ouelett's study shows, both in California (in the 1970's and 2011), as well as in the European Union in 2009 lane-sharing motorcycle accidents appear to be less than 1% of all the motorcycle collision population.
4) In the 1970's 63% of motorcycles were observed lane-sharing, yet made up less than 1% motorcycle collisions.

Dr. Ouellet was a co-author of the seminal 1981 motorcycle safety study "Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures".  Or more commonly referred to as 'The Hurt Report', after it's lead author and team leader.  With over thirty years experience as a researcher in the field of traffic safety, Dr. Ouellet has been lead researcher on multiple studies during his career.  Lane Splitting On California Freeways actually builds upon the data from the 1981 Hurt report, and compares it to findings from 2011, as well as the 2009 Motorcycle Accident In-Depth Study from ACEM in Europe.

Comparing the findings from the 1981 Hurt Report and the 2009 MAIDS; “The simple fact that only five of 900 crashes (0.6%) involved a motorcycle splitting lanes suggests that lane splitting is simply not a great problem in the overall population of motorcycle crashes.  Perhaps it is simply coincidence, but more than 25 years later, nearly identical results were reported in Europe for the Motorcycle Accident In-Depth Study of 923 motorcycle accidents: only 4 crashes (0.4%) occurred when the motorcycle was splitting lanes. That is, lane splitting made a trivial contribution to the motorcycle accident population in both Los Angeles (late 1970s) and Europe (1999-2000). In Los Angeles, more than three times as many crashes were caused by roadway defects (n = 18) or pedestrians and animals (n = 16) than the five lane-splitting collisions.”   (Lane Splitting On California Freeways Page 11 Lines 358-365)

One would expect information like this coming from such an experienced traffic safety researcher would reduce the concerns of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, and the Washington State Patrol.  As well as the concerns of some legislators.

In Dr. Ouellet's words; "If this finding is valid..."(Which the 2014 & 2015 USC Berkeley studies would seem to confirm)"...then laws that effectively ban motorcycle lane splitting may have the unintended effect of increasing motorcycle crashes."

Kind of hits the nail on the head, doesn't it?

Catch you on the road sometime...

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