Lane Splitting: Is it Safe?
I am a police motor officer for one of the largest departments in the United States. I am a certified basic and intermediate traffic collision investigator. I have worked in the traffic department for the last ten years, investigating thousands of motorcycle and car accidents. I wanted to share my passion with other riders, so I became a California Motorcycle Safety Program basic and intermediate riding Instructor. I also started a business teaching riders the skills I learned in motor school called Prorider Antelope Valley.
California is the first state to legalize lane splitting, which is incredible for motorcycle riders. California had the California Highway Patrol come up with some guidelines for lane splitting to make it safe for riders and the other vehicles on the road. These are guidelines and are not laws. Allowing riders to lane split will reduce our chances of being rear-ended by a driver who is not paying attention. The C.H.P. guidelines are as following:
You should not travel more than 10 M.P.H. faster than the other vehicles.
You should not lane split when traffic is moving more than 29 M.P.H.
You should not lane split near on-ramps or exits.
When lane splitting, it should be done between the lane furthest to the left (A.K.A. Number 1 Lane) and the lane directly right of that lane (A.K.A. Number 2 Lane).
Lane splitting is great to help us get places a little faster and keeps us cooler, so we don't have to sit in traffic like everyone else. There are some safety concerns you should consider when lane splitting:
Even though lane splitting is legal doesn't mean that everyone should do it. If you're not comfortable on your motorcycle and don't have the basics of emergency braking and swerving mastered, lane splitting may not be for you. You need to have these basic skills down because you are traveling between cars that weigh a lot more than you and can seriously injure or kill you.
A lot of riders when they lane split, will ride on the painted lines. You lose a lot of traction when your wheels are on those painted lines. If the road is wet, it reduces your traction even more. It will make emergency braking and swerving dangerous if not done correctly or if it's done on top of those lines. If you are going to lane split, you need to stay on one side of the painted lines. If you are in the carpool lane, you can not drive down the middle of double yellow lines, which is illegal and can cost you hundreds in a ticket.
Just because the cars in the number one lane and the number two lane can see you does not mean the vehicles in the number three or number four lane can see you. All too often, I will see cars in the number three lane or number four lane go from those lanes to the number one lane and sideswipe cars and motorcycles. You must pay attention to all of the vehicles in front of you and on the side of you. Some things you can look for when splitting lanes are turn signals, a driver making several attempts to get into your lane, head turns, and driver's looking in their side mirrors. These are all things that could indicate that the driver wants to get over. If you see any of these signs, please slow down and get the driver's attention before passing them or wait until they change lanes.
All motorcycles in California are required to have at least one side mirror on their bike, and it must be on the left side of the bike. I would strongly suggest having two mirrors because it allows you to see behind you on both sides.
If you don't already have auxiliary lights on your bike, I suggest installing some aftermarket lights on your bike. The more lights in front of you and behind you will help drivers see you.
Stay within the C.H.P. guidelines! Splitting lanes at 80 M.P.H. when everyone else is doing 40 M.P.H. is reckless and dangerous for you and other vehicles on the road. All it takes is one vehicle to change lanes, and you're going to be seriously hurt if not get killed.
Our brains can take 1-3 seconds to realize somebody changed lanes in front of us, and it can take another 1-3 seconds to decide and react to that situation. The faster you're going, the further down the road you will be before you have time to apply the brakes or swerve. For example, if you're going 80 M.P.H. on the freeway, you are going approximately 120 feet per second. If you are on top of your game and see the threat right away or within one second, you have already gone 120 feet. If you're not paying attention and you're toward the three-second area, then you have gone 360 feet, and you haven't even started to apply the brakes. Let's say you're paying attention and you are closer to the one-second mark, so you have only gone 120 feet before realizing the threat. You know you need to slow down and apply the brakes. At 80 M.P.H., it's going to take you about 317 feet to stop. If you're on your game and react quickly and can get on the brakes within 1-1.5 seconds, then it will take you at least 437 feet to stop, minimum. That's a long time to be moving forward. The slower you go, the more reaction time you have, and you may be able to swerve instead of emergency braking. These numbers are approximate and not exact numbers. There will be variables that could cause you to brake faster or slower.
We need to ride like we're invisible, whether on the freeway or a city street as motorcycle riders. If you pretend that nobody can see you and ride as if nobody can see you, it will keep you safe and make you a more defensive rider. Always wear all of your gear when riding, including over the ankle books, motorcycle pants or at least blue jeans, motorcycle jacket, gloves, and a D.O.T. approved helmet.