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Motorcycle Lane-Splitting--Okay, or Dangerous?

It's perfectly legal, but Belmont police caution both motorcyclists and bicyclists about the dangers. Tell us what you think.

 

We've all experienced it: sitting in endless Bay Area traffic on a clogged freeway at rush hour, when, suddenly....a motorcycle blows by in that narrow strip between your lane and the lane of the vehicle next to you.

Is that guy crazy? Or is he/she a smarter commuter than I? And, is what he's doing even legal?

According to an article in Friday's San Jose Mercury News, "lane-splitting" by motorcyclists is perfectly legal, albeit controversial.

The article coincides with the beginning of Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, and the release of a survey by the state Office of Traffic Safety on the practice of lane splitting. 

The survey found that 53 percent of drivers think splitting lanes is against the law, but that 87 percent of motorcyclists do it. (The survey also found that 7 percent of drivers say they've tried to block bikers as they ride between lanes.)

California is the only state that permits lane-splitting, and while there is no law that deals directly with the practice, police warn of it's hazards.

"While lane splitting is legal, it can be very dangerous, especially when motorcyclists are splitting lanes at an unsafe speed," said Lieutenant Pat Halleran of the .

"Our officers have, and will, stop motorcycles if they are splitting lanes at an unsafe speed or in an unsafe manner. Our traffic officers often need to get to an emergency scene quickly and will split traffic, as needed.  It takes a high level of skill and an abundance of caution to do it safely, even at city speeds," added Halleran.

Belmont police have also had several incidents involving bicyclists splitting lanes.

"The bicycle collision on Ralston Avenue at Twin Pines Lane in January was as a result of a bicyclist trying to pass traffic on the shoulder.  In February, a motorcyclist on El Camino Real crashed while he was lane-splitting and had to brake suddenly for a vehicle which was stopping ahead of him.  The motorcyclist lost control of his motorcycle and fell to the ground, luckily not hitting, or getting hit by, anyone else." 

"Driving safely, whatever the means of transportation, requires a driver's undivided attention and situational awareness," said Halleran.

There are more than 1.2 million motorcycles on California roadways today--twice as many as a decade ago.

In recognition of Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, electronic freeways will display the message, "Share the road. Look Twice for Motorcyclists."

What do you think about motorcycle lane-splitting? Are you a motorcyclist? Tell us your thoughts in the comment section below and take our poll.

TGD May 04, 2012 at 08:51 PM
I believe lane splitting was made legal since most motorcycles were air cooled and could overheat in stopped congested traffic. Now most bikes are water cooled and do not suffer from the same problem. I ride and split lanes only in stopped or extremely slow traffic and only travel at a safe reduced speed. Still the number one problem I face from cars are people on the phone not paying attention to driving, people who don't us turn signals or traffic vigilantes who believe they can swerve in front of you to prevent you from getting by.
Joan S. Dentler (Editor) May 04, 2012 at 09:13 PM
Thanks for your comment TGD. Motorists not using turn signals was one of the major contributing factors in incidents according to Belmont PD. Stay safe.
Terri Cook May 04, 2012 at 09:38 PM
I know it's legal but I don't like it. One time a motorcyle clipped my side mirror and nearly knocked it off and I couldn't catch up to him to get his license. Now when I see them approaching in my rear view mirror I give them wide berth.
L May 05, 2012 at 01:36 PM
@tgd. plenty of bikes are still air cooled! I only do this with the traffic stopped, and only when the lanes are wide enough, never at full speed, and above the speed limit. Biggest problem is distracted driving.Everyone is texting, eating, applying make up, or on a business concall. Share the road and pay attention,is all.
Curly Bill May 05, 2012 at 05:17 PM
Lane splitting works fine when the cyclists are cautious and drivers are not reading their phones or texting. It took a mirror being knocked off before the guy above decided to provide a little space. I drive a wide vehicle and always move over to allow the motorcycles to get by. Drivers that intentionally try to block them should be cited. Do we really want all those riders to be in cars? We have enough cars on the road.pay attention and give em a little room.
Courtney Carreras May 05, 2012 at 11:31 PM
I think lane splitting is risky (mostly for the cyclist), but if the cyclists wants to take the risk, that is his/her choice. People in cars need to accommodate them, NOT try to play games with people's lives and try to block them, etc. That is such a selfish, juvenile and mean-spirited thing to do. If someone does this on purpose, they should be charged with assault with a deadly weapon. Be courteous and patient with your fellow commuters. Everyone is so angry these days.
D Lindemann May 06, 2012 at 01:12 AM
Motorcycle lane-splitters are unbelievably stupid. I think they've been sucking too many exhaust fumes. Although lane-splitting might be legal, it shouldn't be. California should follow the lead of other states where this practice is illegal. Motorists should be protected from Motorcycle driver irresponsible behavior. Lane splitters: Too dumb to be allowed on the road!
Eric Dentler May 06, 2012 at 01:29 AM
A veteran biker friend who commutes to work on his rice rocket swears lane splitting isn't nearly as dangerous as it looks from our perspective. I think we're more startled than anything in our cars when it happens.
Sandy Wilson May 06, 2012 at 07:14 AM
Those cyclist that zip in and out of traffic flowing already at the speed limit can be annoying when your caging, and they give a bad rap to those of us who are responsible riders. Lane splitting can be safe when done according to the motorcycle safety course and California driving laws. The motorcycle may only do 10 miles faster than the traffic surrounding and must not be exceeding the speed limit, splitting traffic between a regular lane and the HOV lanes is not legal, yet I see it all the time- those vehicle are generally traveling faster than the next lane, making this very dangerous. But when sitting in stop and go traffic, it is sometimes harder to keep balance on a motorcyle and keeping a little speed under you is actually giving more control of the bike. We appreciate those cagers that give a little room when they see or hear us coming by. I think folks are more startled in cars when they cant hear the bike coming up next to them, you all know those quiet little rice rockets that zip through...I dont like splitting lanes, but sometimes its the better option...I make sure my pipes are heard, am very respectful of drivers in other vehicles, and I'm very alert when I do need to split lanes.
Michael Williams May 07, 2012 at 03:12 AM
A cycle is basically invisible to drivers as the bike approaches from the rear. Experienced bikers know you always have to be prepared to dodge a driver changing lanes... splitting lanes exposes the biker to 30 or 40 drivers' bad decisions. And you've got nowhere to go (except the ER). Legal... but a very bad idea.
Eric Pavey May 08, 2012 at 06:01 AM
It's like anything: If the rider follows the law, it can be done safely. If the rider is a idiot, they or someone else can be hurt. Thus applies to driving 4-wheeled vehicles, 2-wheeled, etc. I've lane split for years safely with no incident (daily commute of 20 miles each way through heavy traffic), but seen some of my 2-wheeled fellows do it unsafely, which just makes it look bad for the rest of us. I've also seen far more 4-wheel drivers break the law, but I don't think anyone says we should limit the driving posture of 4-wheeled vehicles because of it. Just because someone is startled that a motorcycle is driving by in slow traffic isn't valid reason to try and limit this form of legal commute.

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