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Lane Splitting On Your Motorcycle – Time Saver or Disaster Waiting To Happen?

I know, you’re in a hurry, you’ve been riding for years. Maybe you’re a thrill seeker and you don’t mind taking chances to get where you’re going – and fast.

It’s not for me to tell you how to ride, but it is my job to offer you advice, and here it goes.

Lane splitting by motorcycle riders is almost purely a California phenomenon, and a few irresponsible bikers have made it a notorious act. That’s not to say that lane splitting is illegal. In fact, the state of California has no laws that prevent riders from lane splitting and it’s the only state so far to issue a statement on the authorities view of the practice. The official position? In essence, the statement says it is permissible for riders to practice lane splitting – provided it’s done “in a safe manner.”

It’s entirely a matter of opinion as to whether lane splitter is ever safe, but when done properly, it can at least not be unsafe.It can be argued that lane splitting is a way for  motorcycle riders to be more easily visible to drivers. If you believe that it’s unlikely that cars make unsafe lane changes, you’re likely to agree with this assessment.

You’d also be living in a dream world if you believe automobile drivers are always focused on driving and committed to doing it safely. Some drivers that are distracted, even in high traffic congestion conditions, and not above using cell phones, texting and eating while they operate their cars.

As a rider, you know it’s this kind of driver who poses a clear and present danger to the motorcycle riders. Splitting lanes can be particularly dangerous when this sort of driver swerves across lanes.

Though it may be legal, some police officers find lane splitting objectionable and unsafe, and they can cite the motorcycle rider after an accident regardless of the stated position of the state. Officers can write a citation for unsafe speed for conditions, unsafe lane changes or “straddling a lane,” and all of those violations are covered under California law.

There is no safety research conducted in the United States which directly addresses the question of lane splitting. The European MAIDS report studied the causes of motorcycle accidents in four countries where lane splitting is legal and one where it is not, but failed to reach a definitive conclusion as to whether or not the practice is safe.

The Hurt Report, a study published in 1981, came to the conclusion that lane splitting may  actually improve motorcycle safety by reducing rear end collisions. Proponents of lane splitting have pointed out that the US Department of Transportation FARS database data indicates that fatalities from rear end collisions into motorcycles are 30% lower in California than in Florida or Texas, states with similar riding seasons and populations which do not allow lane splitting.

Is California the only state where lane splitting is permitted? Well, not as of this year. A new lane splitting law took effect on the first of the year in Arizona. The bill took effect on Jan. 1st, 2011.

Currently, lane splitting is only legal or tolerated in Oregon, Washington State, California and now, Arizona, so be sure to check out your state’s official policy on the practice before trying it yourself.

Keep in mind that your insurance coverage will most certainly voided should you have an accident while lane splitting in any state not mentioned above, and that even in those states, if you’re ticketed for an offense commited as a result of lane splitting and you’re in an accident, you’ve pretty likely voided your coverage and expect to fork over for any damages that happen as a result.

If you live in California, your insurance needs are a little more complicated than those of riders in other states. We’re here to help…

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