Long ago in the age of disco, California gave America the right turn on red. Cynics call it California’s greatest cultural achievement. But, now Texas State Senator John Carona, a Republican from Dallas, thinks California’s 700,000 kooky bikers might have another idea worth imitating.
Lane splitting, riding a motorcycle between stalled lines of cars in a traffic jam, is legal in Japan and in most of Europe. But, in the United States it is only legal in the Golden State. So Carona is sponsoring Texas Senate Bill 506, which would make the practice legal in Texas, too.
The Case For
Lane splitting makes sense for at least four reasons. First of all, just like right turns on red, lane splitting helps traffic move. Second, at least in dry states, bikers are already riding on one edge or another of a lane to avoid the accumulated oil slicks and trim screws that drip off the bottoms of cars and trucks. Third, during heat waves, lane splitting keeps the air-cooled engine of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle from melting into your boots. And finally, since it encourages bikers even in wet states to ride the edges of a lane, it cuts down on car-motorcycle rear end collisions.
Rear end motorcycle collisions in California, for example, average 30 percent lower than in other states with similar climates.
Stephen Polunsky, Director of the Texas Senate Committee on Transportation, explains what many Texans cannot yet quite imagine. “That motorcycle that’s sitting there in front of you with all that space between you and the car on the other side, if he can pull in between the lanes and move on up, then that means you can move up too.”
What Legal Means
In California, the legality of any particular incidence of lane splitting is always a judgment call by a cop. If the cop is reasonable and you obviously know what you are doing it is legal. If the cop is unreasonable and you are riding a line you are illegal. If you are involved in an accident while splitting lanes you are always automatically at fault and you will always be cited.
The proposed Texas law is very specific. The motorcycle rider has to wear a helmet to split lanes. If you are carrying a passenger she has to wear a helmet, too. You can’t go more than five miles-an-hour faster than the rest of traffic. You can’t split when traffic is going more than 20 miles-an-hour. And, you can’t split in a school crossing zone or anywhere where the speed limit is less than 20.
Riding a motorcycle is an art. The proposed Texas law wants to treat motorcycling like it is a recipe for pancakes. But it is a start.
And anyone who rides a motorcycle in California probably thinks lane splitting is just common sense. On the other hand, most of those who oppose the idea for Texas think lane splitting is cheating.
The Case Against
“I can’t believe that anyone in their right mind would even propose such a bill,” one citizen complained to a public service website called StateSurge. “This is Texas and not California. It will only cause more road rage on our highways because someone on two wheels, just like a number of bicycle riders, feel they should be privileged and not have to wait in line like the rest of us. Wait your turn like the rest of us.”
Another opponent wrote, “Lane sharing will be met with resistance from other drivers who are stuck in traffic and will think it unfair for motorcycles to sneak by. They will be tempted ‘to take the law in their own hands’ and to block motorcyclists from lane sharing, creating an even more dangerous situation.”
A similar bill in the Texas House Bill failed to pass in 2005.