Le­gal­ize lane-split­ting

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION - N the face of it,

Oit seems ab­so­lutely in­sane to al­low mo­tor­cy­cles to ig­nore the lanes on the road and to whiz past cars by go­ing be­tween them. What if the biker mis­judges and hits a car be­cause he’s too close on one side or an­other? What if a car moves a lit­tle to the left or right — still stay­ing legally within its lane — un­aware that a mo­tor­cy­cle is just a cou­ple dozen feet be­hind and mov­ing up faster than the rest of the traf­fic?

Lane-split­ting isn’t legal in the rest of the coun­try. Even in Cal­i­for­nia, the prac­tice oc­curs, well, be­tween the lines. It’s not outlawed, but nei­ther is it of­fi­cially ap­proved. It’s tol­er­ated by law en­force­ment in most cir­cum­stances, though many mo­torists grum­ble about it — partly con­cerned about safety though per­haps also a tad re­sent­ful of the smaller ve­hi­cles’ abil­ity to keep mov­ing even on the I-10 at 8:30 a.m.

It now seems, how­ever, that anti-lane­s­plit­ting sen­ti­ment runs counter to the facts. A UC Berke­ley study re­leased last year by the state Of­fice of Traf­fic Safety found that lane-split­ting mo­tor­cy­clists were no more likely to be se­ri­ously in­jured than other mo­tor­cy­clists, as long as they weren’t mov­ing too much faster than sur­round­ing traf­fic — in fact, they were sig­nif­i­cantly less likely to face such an in­jury. That might be partly be­cause lane-split­ting bik­ers are gen­er­ally more care­ful on the road, ac­cord­ing to the study: They wear bet­ter hel­mets, do less speed­ing and are less likely to be drunk. And although lane-split­ting is il­le­gal in most of the United States, it is widely ac­cepted in Euro­pean coun­tries.

Coun­ter­in­tu­itive though it may be, the data sug­gest that the safest move for Cal­i­for­nia would be to free lane-split­ting from its shad­owy legal sta­tus, per­mit it, but also reg­u­late it to min­i­mize ac­ci­dents. A bill to do that, AB 51, passed the As­sem­bly last week.

With some ad­just­ments, it should be­come law. The bill would re­quire lane-split­ting bik­ers to travel no more than 15 mph faster than sur­round­ing traf­fic (and only up to 50 mph), to pre­vent the big­ger speed dif­fer­en­tials that spell dan­ger.

Not that this is a per­fect so­lu­tion. On roads where the speed of sur­round­ing cars varies from place to place and car to car, it could be dif­fi­cult for mo­tor­cy­clists to know whether they’re within the 15-mph limit. It could be even harder for law en­force­ment to de­ter­mine who’s break­ing the law. And when some­one is break­ing the law, it’s ob­vi­ously dif­fi­cult for po­lice to pull an of­fender over. The bill should in­clude lan­guage to study its ef­fects af­ter sev­eral years.

But at least reg­u­la­tion would clar­ify and cod­ify the bound­aries of safe lane-split­ting for mo­tor­cy­clists and mo­torists alike. Bla­tant speed­ing would be easy to spot, and li­a­bil­ity would be eas­ier to de­ter­mine. AB 51 makes more sense than con­tin­ued con­fu­sion.

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