Recent research has confirmed what many motorcycle riders have known for years. "Lane splitting" – or riding in between lanes of traffic – obviously saves riders a lot of time, but it's also considerably safer than sitting in traffic and acting like a car, as long as it’s done within certain guidelines, and contrary to what many drivers think, it actually speeds up traffic for everyone else on the road. Riders, please pass this information on to the drivers in your lives.
It’s time for certain drivers to get these thoughts out of their heads: "lane splitting is queue jumping," "motorcyclists should have to wait in line like the rest of us," "riding in between cars is suicidal." While it’s illegal in most of the United States, it’s accepted in many other parts of the world, and evidence is mounting that lane splitting is safer for riders than sitting in traffic, and actually benefits car drivers as well as the riders themselves.
Safety benefits of lane splitting for motorcyclists
One of the key arguments against lane splitting is that, to many driver’s eyes, it seems like a dangerous practice. From a rider’s perspective, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
The most common type of accident on the road is a rear-ender. These make up 40 percent of all accidents in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. And while most of these are minor fender benders between car drivers, there’s really no such thing as a minor fender bender if someone slams into the back of a motorcycle. By splitting between lanes, riders are able to put a shell of slow or stopped traffic around their bikes and protect against the inattention of other road users.
In a recent Berkeley study undertaken with the California Highway Patrol’s assistance, 7,836 motorcycle crashes were examined closely, with some 1,163 of these crashes having occurred while the rider was lane splitting.
Riders who were splitting at the time of their accident were significantly less likely to be injured in every category than those who weren’t: 45 percent fewer head injuries, 21 percent fewer neck injuries, 32 percent fewer torso injuries, 12 percent fewer arm/leg injuries, and 55 percent fewer fatalities.
This is quite possibly because the majority of those splitting accidents happened at speeds between 1 and 30 mph (50 km/h). The data also shows that the safest way to lane split is to travel at less than 30 mph, and less than 10 mph above the speed of the surrounding traffic. Injury rates leap up in all categories when both of these conditions are violated.
Benefits of lane splitting for other road users
Lane splitting is an unspoken contract between riders and drivers. Riders don’t wait for stopped cars, and in return, they don’t make the cars wait for them. Where many drivers get it wrong is that they see lane splitting as "queue jumping" that will cause each car to go one further spot back in the queue. In truth, a filtering bike disappears from the queue altogether, the only time a motorcycle holds a car up is when it sits in traffic and acts like another car.
Filtering bikes work their way to the front of stopped traffic at red lights, and accelerate away much quicker than the cars around them. When they reach the next stoppage, they disappear again between the lanes and no car is held up.
Certainly, this is a good deal for the rider, who arrives much earlier than the car driver. But every filtering rider has a positive effect on traffic flow that benefits every other motorist. A 2012 Belgian study found that if just 10 percent of drivers were to switch to motorcycles and filter through traffic, travel times would decrease for the remaining car drivers by some eight minutes per journey. This benefit would not exist if motorcyclists ignored the inherent advantages of their smaller, narrower vehicles and sat in line like cars.
The same study found considerable environmental benefits to lane splitting. Not because bikes emit less carbon (many larger bikes are as bad as cars), but because every bike that lane splits actively reduces the amount of time every other vehicle on the road spends sitting in traffic jams.
So the next time a rider wriggles past you in traffic, remember that it’s a win-win. The rider is saving time and money, and looking after their own safety, but they’re also making everyone else’s journey faster. So give them some space, for your own sake.