NMA E-Newsletter #118: Two-Way Street

Last week’s newsletter (“Looking Twice“) noted a few things that motorists should do to share the roads more safely with motorcyclists. A California member, Louis Goldsman, subsequently sent us a copy of a letter to the editor he wrote about another highway safety issue along the same lines: lane splitting. This is the practice where a motorcyclist or bicyclist travels in the unused space between two lines of moving or stationary vehicles.

Lane splitting is legal in some states, illegal in others. While Mr. Goldsman’s comments specifically address California law, the important aspects apply to motorcyclists and motorists across the country. Here is a condensed version of his observations:

I drove a motorcycle for many years and stopped when, for me, the perceived risks outweighed the benefits. There are a couple of points that should be addressed if automobile drivers and motorcyclists are to safely coexist on our roadways.

There is no provision in the California Vehicle Code (CVC) that allows “lanes splitting” or “lane sharing.” There is also no provision that prohibits the practice, thus, it is not illegal. This distinction is important, legal versus not illegal, because the question that must be addressed is who is at fault if there is contact between a car and a motorcycle that is “splitting lanes?” I believe the fault will almost always lie with the motorcyclist.

From the CVC: “The driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle … proceeding in the same direction shall pass to the left at a safe distance without interfering with the safe operation of the overtaken vehicle…” (§21750) “The driver of a motor vehicle may overtake and pass another vehicle upon the right only under conditions permitting such movement in safety.” (§21755)

And with regard to the practice of weaving in and out of lanes while maneuvering around and by cars – “No person shall turn a vehicle from a direct course or move right or left upon a roadway until such movement can be made with reasonable safety and then only after the giving of an appropriate signal…” (§22107) Clearly, the responsibility for passing safely lies with the vehicle making the pass.

Another thing that some motorcyclists seemingly forget is that it is easier for a motorcyclist to see a car than it is for the driver of a car to see a motorcycle, particularly when the motorcycle is behind the car and is between cars close together on a congested freeway. A motorcycle traveling just 25 miles per hour faster than slow-moving traffic will pass more than two car lengths of the slower moving cars every second!

If a driver checks their mirrors and does not see a motorcycle that is perhaps almost three cars back, one second later the motorcyclist will be alongside that car. Motorcyclists splitting lanes need to keep the speed difference between them and the slower moving cars low enough to give the driver of the car a reasonable chance to see them.

Motorists and motorcyclists do have a shared responsibility to keep our public thoroughfares as safe as possible for all travelers. That was an evident theme at the recent Heartland STEAM conference hosted by ABATE (American Bikers for Awareness, Training, and Education) of Minnesota and attended by the NMA.

P.S. “Looking Twice” mentioned checking blind spots for motorcyclists. A few readers were quick to point out that a driver’s blind spots can be essentially eliminated by the proper adjustment of the side-view mirrors. From the NMA Blog three years ago, here is “How to Adjust Your Side-View Mirrors.” If you haven’t adjusted your mirrors accordingly, now is the time.

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