The Sacramento Bee ran a story yesterday about the most recent results of a lane splitting survey conducted annually in California for the last three years. The story was picked up by The Associated Press and has been widely reported in the last 24 hours although the survey on which it is based is actually five months old.
The report has the unwieldy title “Motorcycle Lane-Share Study Among California Motorcyclists And Drivers 2014 And Comparison To 2012 And 2013 Data.” It was conducted by a Ewald and Wasserman Research Consultants for the California Office of Traffic Safety and The Safe Transportation Research and Education Center at the University of California at Berkeley and the headline is that more California motorcyclists are lane splitting on both freeways and surface streets than ever before. The sub headline is that unless you are stupid about lane splitting it is no more dangerous than anything else you are likely to do on a motorcycle.
Lane splitting does in fact actually lower your chances of being struck from behind by a car. The bad news is that you are a little more likely to run into something when you lane split than when you just sit safely in the middle of your lane.
California, which for a couple of decades in the last century had a reputation as a great place to ride a motorcycle on great roads, has always been the most rational of all the states about lane splitting – or as it has often been formally described, “lane sharing.”
A couple of years ago, the California Highway Patrol actually acknowledged that it is legal to split lanes in the Golden State and issued a brief set of “Lane Splitting General Guidelines” so that bikers would at least know what would and would not get them a ticket.
The guidelines told bikers and cops to stop worrying about crossing the white line that divides lanes and to just ride cautiously. Cautiously meant not going more than ten miles an hour faster than other traffic, not splitting lanes going faster than 40 miles per hour, splitting only the far left lanes and using “reasonable care.” At the time, it seemed like a useful thing for a big police department to say so it wasn’t long before somebody objected.
A gadfly named Kenneth Mandler, who has a business advising people about how to get state jobs, took offense. He claimed the Highway Patrol had created an “underground regulation” when it published “guidelines for safe lane splitting” so the CHP took the guidelines down. But they are still easy to find on the web and most police departments in California seem to have embraced the reasoning in the guidelines whether the regulation they offer is underground or not.
The 2014 update to the ongoing study is intended to make everybody a slightly more informed motorcyclist. It found that more people were commuting on motorcycles in 2014 than in the previous two years. It found that about 40 percent of California riders used their bikes mostly on the weekends but about 38 percent of riders use their motorcycles every day.
About 40 percent of the bikers who ride six or seven days a week split lanes on California’s freeways whenever they ride while only about seven percent of infrequent riders, who ride once or less a week, do. Taken as a whole, 71 percent of California’s motorcyclists sometimes split lanes on surface roads which is a ten percent increase over 2013. Sixty-two percent of all riders in the state sometimes split lanes on both surface streets and freeways which is a more than seven percent increase over the previous year.
The younger the rider the more likely he is to split lanes. Riders are splitting at slightly faster speeds in stop and go traffic but overall riders are going a little slower this year than last when they split.
Motorcyclists who split are most concerned about drivers who text when driving and that problem may be getting worse. About six percent more riders listed that as their top concern in 2014 than last year.
People In Cars
The publication of the Highway Patrol’s guidelines and a subsequent ad campaign made California safer for bikers. Sixty-one percent of California’s vehicle operators now know that lane splitting is legal which is about five percentage points more than last year.
The younger a driver is, the more likely he is to be aware than lane splitting is legal in California. Ten percent more drivers between 18 and 35 now know the practice is legal than knew last year. In California, sixty percent of all drivers now know lane splitting is legal on freeways. But only about half of all drivers know it is legal to split on surface streets.
About eight percent of drivers who don’t know that lane splitting is legal approve of the practice anyway. Men are more likely to approve of lane splitting than women.