Just this past month, Nevada legislators shot down a bill that would legalize lane splitting for motorcyclists. For those who aren’t aware, lane splitting is the practice of motorcyclists (and bicyclists) riding between two defined lanes occupied by cars when in heavy traffic. One state senator, Rep. Sen. Don Gustavson, didn’t think it was a safe idea because “motorcycle gatherings” (big groups of motorcyclists) could then scatter “in all different lanes so you’re just left sitting there waiting until you can go” (“Motorcycle lane-splitting bill dies in Nevada Senate”, USA Today). Seems to us like he would just prefer to get out of the starting gate first, and likely that he didn’t take the time to really understand the safety benefits of lane splitting.
Lane splitting is a safe practice when done reasonably and cautiously, and actually a safer practice for motorcyclists than following the flow of stop-and-go traffic. One of the leading causes of motorcycle deaths is being rear-ended while in stopped traffic. David L. Hough, renowned motorcycle safety specialist, has publicly stated that he too believes a motorcyclist is safer when lane splitting as opposed to sitting in still traffic.Lane splitting gives riders better visibility, helps drivers behind riders see them more easily by separating them from the monotonous flow of traffic, and relieves undue, potentially dangerous, traffic congestion.
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As of now, a common stance is that there are too few motorcyclists to enact any sort of special accommodation, as the help to traffic flow will be minimal. To us Los Angeles motorcycle lawyers, this is an evasive response to an often life-threatening safety issue, one that should be dealt with, not avoided. We firmly believe that lane splitting can reduce the occurrence of these often fatal rear-end accidents and we agree wholeheartedly that California’s allowance of lane splitting serves everyone’s best interest. Los Angeles motorcycle lawyers, ourselves included, understand that there is a danger to motorcyclists in the city’s heavy traffic travelling in the “door zone,” but we would rather see some bruises from a door or a minor sideswipe than an obituary in the newspaper. Lane splitting allows motorcyclists to be in control of their own fate, making it easier to tell when a car is about to switch lanes and the ability to stop themselves from getting hit instead of just helplessly waiting to.
Perhaps the biggest concern is who assumes liability if an accident involving lane splitting occurs. We Los Angeles motorcycle lawyers at Kass & Moses, who have handled such cases throughout the Los Angeles area, including Long Beach, Tustin, and Hollywood, know such an accident can be either party’s fault. Often motorists are not cognizant of a motorcycle travelling beside them–perhaps if it were officially legal they would be–but at other times, the motorcyclist was not practicing lane splitting responsibly. To assume either is automatically at fault would be foolhardy. Lane splitting, like any other type of driving, is always dangerous if done at high speeds or while neglecting any driving conditions, but if done properly at low speeds and cautiously during heavy traffic, it poses negligible extra risk to car drivers. Claiming that it does is just an attempt to free motorists from assuming any responsibility, and does so at the risk of putting motorcyclists in unneeded harm. We know driving a motorcycle is more dangerous than driving a car, but we riders accept that extra responsibility. We would like it if motorists could–not even accept extra responsibility–but simply acknowledge that there is a safer way to travel, and to help protect their fellow travellers by doing so. Perhaps a more general awareness of the advantages to lane splitting, both to motorcyclists and the currently fearful motorists, could do so. We certainly hope so.