65 months ago

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Splitting Opinion: A Case For Sensible Lane-Splitting

Los Angeles, California, United States

There are a lot of major misconceptions about lane-splitting, so let’s take an in-depth look at the practice and examine why, when done responsibly, lane splitting is an objectively safe practice that’s good for everyone on the road.

As a resident of Los Angeles, I practice splitting lanes on a daily basis and feel very strongly about the subject. When practiced responsibly, splitting lanes is_ not _dangerous. I constantly split lanes and I’ve never had an accident while doing so, and I can only think of a single time close call that was admittedly a result of going to fast.

A Frank Discussion On A Safe Practice

A Frank Discussion On A Safe Practice

Rules for Lane Splitting in Los Angeles

Though lane splitting — or filtering, or whatever it’s called in your neck of the woods — is a common practice on the majority of the planet, splitting is illegal in Canada (aside from a few tiny pending trial areas) and the US — excluding my home state of California. While filtering is freely done in the Golden State, the laws regarding the practice are a bit of a grey area, to put it mildly.

The California DMV website previously featured a ”Lane splitting general guidelines" page, though after a petitioner pointed out there was no formal process for generating the state-backed guidelines, ultimately the page was taken down. In its place now stands a couple ambiguous paragraphs, including a section reading: “California law does not allow or prohibit motorcycles from passing other vehicles proceeding in the same direction within the same lane”. Super helpful stuff, right?

There are a couple tips on the CA DMV site — “watch your speed”, “assume people in cars do not see you”, “avoid blunt spots in other vehicles”, etc — but whether or not a rider’s lane splitting is concerned to be reckless is ultimately left up to the discretion of whatever cop happens to see it. Still, there are a few basic rules that, when followed, ensure one’s lane splitting experience is devoid of any unpleasant (and costly) interactions with law enforcement, and more importantly, free of any and all collisions with other vehicles.

The Great Debate

Despite being practiced on the majority of the planet on a daily basis without any second thought, North America is still having a ridiculous debate on splitting lanes. Unfortunately, you will notice when poking around online that the vast majority on the anti-filtering side of the argument aren’t actually riders themselves, and if they are they typically don’t reside in regions where filtering is legal. Though their complete lack of firsthand experience hasn’t stopped them from weighing in on the matter.

I think the best case for filtering is made simply by looking at regions of the planet that are particularly scoot-centric like Southeast Asia. A much larger percentage of vehicles on the road are motorized two-wheelers (mostly scooters and small motorcycles) in places like Thailand, where filtering is practiced on a massive scale. Yet, even with a much larger number of bikes and scooters on the road — almost all of which are constantly splitting lanes — the practice hasn’t created any problems, nor (to the best of my knowledge) has filtering been banned in any regions where it was previously practice.

In places like Bangkok, filtering is practiced in mass without issue

In places like Bangkok, filtering is practiced in mass without issue

Good For Me, Good For You

Not only does splitting lanes save riders untold amounts of time, but the legalization of filtering actually benefits everyone. For (nearly) every person on a motorcycle splitting lanes, there is one less car adding to the congestion, getting everyone to their destinations faster. Though they’ve only been conducted on relatively small stretches of freeway, studies have shown that in some cases, if 10% of commuters switched from driving to riding, traffic would (theoretically) drop by as much as (approximately) 40%. In a city like Los Angeles where traffic is a daily nightmare, that would be a game changer.

The legalization of lane splitting also motivates more people to take up motorcycling which, for the reasons just mentioned, benefits everyone. I actually first started riding because traffic in LA was so bad that getting a little 150cc runner became a wildly appealing option over sitting in gridlock day after day, eventually leading to an ongoing obsession with all things motorcycle. More people splitting lanes also means less wear and tear on the road, and more people on bikes means fewer emissions too. Filtering also allow for better mileage as the bike is always moving. Even if your car gets stellar mileage, you’re getting zero miles-per-gallon when sitting in gridlock not moving.

Mitigating Risk

Speed obviously plays a major role in the risk factor involved in filtering. I’ll go ahead and point out that lots of reasonably safe activities become exponentially more dangerous when done at an unsafe speed, whether it be chopping onions, walking down stairs, or riding a motorcycle in traffic.

If a rider travels at a safe rate of speed (relative to the speed of traffic, no more than 10-15mph faster), they will have sufficient time to react if a driver pulls out or changes lanes at the last second. If you look at lane-splitting accidents on Youtube, you’ll notice almost all of them are the result of the biker going to fast, riding too close to cars, or simply not paying attention.

At the end of the day all that matters is that you aren’t traveling so fast that you won’t have time to brake in time, should a car make a last-minute lane-change.

Ending Rear Enders

Filtering makes riders safer. If you look at statistics from Texas, Florida, and California (all three States offer year-round riding), you’ll notice the latter State has a markedly lower amount of motorcycle fatalities resulting from rear-end collisions with cars, and this is in no way a coincidence. One of the most deadly situations a rider can face is being rear-ended while waiting at or approaching a stop-sign or traffic light. More often than not these collisions are deadly too. Filtering allows bikers to slip in-between cars, enabling motorcyclists to use the cars around them as protection.

Splitting is Sensible

The whole concept of filtering is exceedingly logical. There’s an open path that a bike can safely slip through, why not take it? On freeways lanes are wider than city streets, making splitting lanes that much easier. When splitting lanes on the regular roads, riders can filter up to the front of the cue of cars at a stoplight which also makes sense considering even small displacement bikes are almost always faster off the line than cars. If splitting lanes is done responsibly, drivers shouldn’t have to alter their driving in any way.

When done at a reasonable rate of speed, lane-splitting is perfectly safe

When done at a reasonable rate of speed, lane-splitting is perfectly safe

**The Art of Riding Between Cars **

Like every other facet of riding, filtering requires practice. Motorcycles offer fabulous fields of vision which we can use to our advantage. There are little tricks riders can pick up that makes them safer splitters.

  • Stay out of drivers’ blindspots is a big one.
  • Ride at a speed that allows for adequate time for emergency braking.
  • Always split in the lane furthest to the left (whenever possible).
  • Look at a car’s front tires to predict if a vehicle is turning or changing lanes, even if the driver fails to use their turn signals, their wheels will tell you what they're thinking.
  • Painted lines in the road offer less traction, which matters in evasive maneuvers or when emergency braking, (or in wet conditions) so riding in a slightly serpentined line will help with tire grip.
  • **BONUS TIP: With your fingers already resting on the clutch lever and your right hand already on the throttle, pulling in the clutch and opening the throttle (revving) is easier, and more effective, than using the horn. This isn't advisable at higher-speeds as only the rear-brake is available for stopping power. **

Splitting Looks Scary

If you didn’t grow up in a region where splitting lanes is legal, the practice may admittedly appear to be on the sketchy side. When you aren’t moving, it can seem like motorcycles are blowing by, a fact that’s amplified by the loud exhausts on two-wheelers, and even more so the unusually close proximity of the driver in relation to the moving bike.

There's no good reason filtering is banned in most of North America, aside from general ignorance and unfamiliarity of the practice

There's no good reason filtering is banned in most of North America, aside from general ignorance and unfamiliarity of the practice

Weighing The Unknown

I’ve been both surprised and amused by some of the reactions I’ve seen to recent articles online about legalizing filtering in areas where the practice isn't currently permitted by law. Some commenters have expressed concerns about car drivers intentionally opening their doors to hit bikers, something I’ve never seen or even heard of. How would that work? Like really? What happens directly after?

You Gotta Start Somewhere

The argument against filtering goes immediately to the point that drivers aren’t focused enough, or that they wouldn’t be aware of riders splitting lanes. You can teach an old dog new tricks. Drivers can be taught to be aware of motorcycles. It makes us better drivers.

Secondly, we all know there will be bad drivers on the road and as motorcyclists it’s our job to be prepared and to act accordingly. This applies to riding in general and not just when splitting lanes. Whether or not drivers are aware of bikers splitting lanes shouldn’t matter because we're always riding in a defensive manner that takes driver error into account.

Let's split! Ride safe.

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64 months ago

@Bourbonator "The <span>cell phone idiots" is one of the reasons I do lane splitting... Dangerous people... </span>


64 months ago

if you ride, and don't lane split, you should stay off the road. if it's too dangerous for you, why are you riding in the first place? On the east coast US, I lane split all day, every day. those who don't, are asking for an idiot to ram them. most cops don't chase motorcycles, so you're better off staying a moving target than a stationary one. the world is going to shit, so ride safe and stay vigilant.


64 months ago

Rode for two years in Jakarta, three in Bangkok and now in Tanzania. Lane splitting (moving traffic) and filtering (stopped traffic) are legal and common but cops will pull you aside for doing it at an unreasonable speed. 15 kph faster than the cars around you is the general rule in SE Asia. That said there is an enormous number of fatalities for riders in Jakarta (official figures are 25 to 28k deaths per annum in Jakarta alone. Bangkok doesn't publish numbers. Nearly all are either bike too fast or hit at a light from behind.


64 months ago

A few years ago a mate and I were on the M6 motorway in the England. We lane split through a slow moving tailback and I worked out later that we were 20 miles further on than if we hadn’t filtered. It’s not hard, it’s a piece of piss really. Just keep your wits about you. Used to be m/c courier so did it for years with no real issues.


64 months ago

Here is the link to the 2012 acem report  claiming that a 10% shift from automobile to motorcycles during rush hours between the cities of Leuven and Brussels (where lane splitting is legally allowed) would result in a 40% time loss reduction for the people travelling by car. Numbers are from 2011 so I guess the benefit could only get bigger now, with traffic increasing.


64 months ago

i get you your point but the mind set is "get your ass back in line" "don't cut ahead" "Your breaking the law" "being disrespectful to the common rules of the road" In Texas it promotes road rage. I ride. I see how its entirety possable to take advantage of the open "lane" between the stoped mass of cars. My 06 is not water cooled. I need AIR across the jugs or it overheats and causes costly damage. 100° is difficult to get air even at slow speeds. I just won't ride between cars. It's not acceptable/ethical in my mind. Running the shoulder to exit is the only permissible option that is "safe" enough not to evoke a pot shot when the trafic is locked. Other than that, high temps and rush hour I won't ride. People are just getting F'n crazy. The social norms and edict has broken down to being self centered and all about "me"... oh, did I mention cell phone idiots!! Another reason to stay in line. Do what you think is acceptable not what you can get away with.