Citing “motorcycle operator and passenger safety,” the American Motorcyclist Association has now endorsed the practice of “lane splitting” or “white lining.”
In an editorial in the current issue of American Motorcyclist Magazine, the AMA argues: “Perhaps one of the most dangerous situations for any on-highway motorcyclist is being caught in congested traffic, where stop-and-go vehicles, distracted and inattentive vehicle operators, and environmental conditions pose an increased risk of physical contact with another vehicle or hazard. Even minor contact under such conditions can be disastrous for motorcyclists.”
The AMA also cites a recent study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration which states: “A motorcycle’s narrow width can allow it to pass between lanes of stopped or slow-moving cars on roadways where the lanes are wide enough to offer an adequate gap. This option can provide an escape route for motorcyclists who would otherwise be trapped or struck from behind. There is evidence (Hurt, 1981) that traveling between lanes of stopped or slow-moving cars (i.e., lane splitting) on multiple-lane roads (such as interstate highways) slightly reduces crash frequency compared with staying within the lane and moving with other traffic.”
You can read the AMA editorial here.
California is the only state that allows lane splitting. Historically, the difference between legal and illegal lane splitting in California has been a subjective decision made by individual cops. Technically, until earlier this year California only allowed “lane sharing” which meant a motorcycle could legally share a road lane with another motor vehicle. Police who interpreted the law strictly or prejudicially would cite motorcycles that drove over lane dividers with a charge of “illegal lane change.” Additionally many California motorists have long considered lane splitting to be rude.
California’s fitful tolerance for lane splitting began when all motorcycles were air cooled. The state recognized that lane splitting could prevent engine overheating in traffic jams.
But last February the California Highway Patrol issued “Lane Splitting General Guidelines.” The guidelines assures bikers that they will not be ticketed if they don’t split lanes going more than ten miles an hour faster than other traffic; if they do not split going faster than 40 miles per hour; if they only split between the far left lanes and if they use reasonable care. The guidelines also remind motorists that “Intentionally blocking or impeding a motorcyclist in a way that could cause harm to the rider is illegal (California Vehicle Code 22400)” and “opening a vehicle door to impede a motorcycle is illegal (California Vehicle Code 22517).”
Lane splitting is legal in Japan and in most of Europe.