In the Curve: Lane Splitting - That Magic Number, 15 mphPicture this: You’re standing at a family party when you strike up a conversation with...

Picture this: You’re standing at a family party when you strike up a conversation with someone you’ve never met before—someone's friend of a friend. You causally mention that you ride motorcycles (if you live in California), and in response you receive, “You’re not one of those crazy guys who fly in between traffic, are you?”

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The seemingly never-ending lane-splitting discussion consumes cagers and bikers alike (well, hopefully it’ll end when the rest of the US agrees with California and accepts it.) Although, while I refer to it as "lane-splitting," I should show it more respect and refer to it using the technical term: lane sharing—which is admittedly less aggressive sounding.

How do you even answer that question? You're damned from the beginning. "Well, I'm crazy, but typically not in traffic and I do share lanes, but not like an asshole... typically. Are you one of those crazy guys who tries to kill me in a car?"

In the Curve: Lane Splitting - That Magic Number, 15 mph

Luckily, according to recent years' statistics, fewer people are asking that stupid question about lane splitting and just accepting it for what it is—a safe action that needs to be accepted as a legal one.

“60.7 percent of all vehicle drivers stating that lane-splitting for motorcycles on freeways is legal. In comparison to 2013, there has been a significant increase of 5.2% in the awareness of the lane-splitting legality (Table V6),” according to a Ewald and Wasserman research consultants 2014 study, MOTORCYCLE LANE-SHARE STUDY AMONG CALIFORNIA MOTORCYCLISTS. “Compared to 2013, both age groups of 18 – 24 and 25 – 35 year-olds increased in their awareness more than 10 percent of the legality of lane splitting.”

So are drivers becoming more aware?

“Drivers’ perception of lane-splitting being legal on multiple-lane roads has significantly increased by 8.3 percent between 2013 and 2014 from 44.0 percent to 52.3 percent,” according to the same study.

However, the study also found that while people are more aware, they’re still not liking it. “Among drivers who believe lane-splitting on all multiple-lane roads to be illegal, only 7.7 percent approved while 34.9 percent disapproved, indicating a significant relationship between approval of lane-splitting and knowledge of its legality.”

In the Curve: Lane Splitting - That Magic Number, 15 mph

Okay, pump the brakes, let's back up a bit here. Just to clarify, it is not legally addressed in the books in California to share the same lane as another motor vehicle. But in California it's allowed. It was originally allowed so motorcycle cops on air-cooled bikes could move through traffic without worrying about overheating. If there's two things that So-Cal is known for, it's heat and traffic.

The discussion we've all been having lately is on the movement to make it legal in California (read a break down of the laws here.) A part of said law would be restrictions on lane sharing, like a speed limit of no more than 15mph over the flow of traffic and no lane sharing over 50mph.

In the Curve: Lane Splitting - That Magic Number, 15 mph

I, for one, am a strong believer in this law for many important reasons:

  • It will show the rest of the country that California endorses this idea and it's being taken seriously by the police and government.
  • It will provide data to other states that it actually works.
  • The law will educate all drivers through DMV literature and new license testing. It will notify drivers that lane sharing is legal and drivers should be aware of motorcycles. Remember when the California DMV took the terminology off of its site? 
  • It will help the action become more legitimate—you can't argue that it's irresponsible if the entire state of CA endorses it, so much that they make it a law.
  • It's un-enforceable: Can you really know the exact speed of the cars around you? So, how do you know you're doing more than 15mph more than them? Well, so long as you're not acting like an ass or a ghost rider, flying through traffic, then you probably won't ever be ticketed for speeding. To me, it appears as simply a deterrent and excuse to give someone a ticket for being reckless.

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An excerpt from HOG Magazine.

An excerpt from HOG Magazine.

The Magic Number

There’s a reason 15 mph over is the magic number when splitting lanes. According to most studies, when a motorcycle travels 15 mph over the speed of traffic, chances of an accident greatly increase.

Take this scenario as an example: You’re lane sharing through dead stopped traffic at 15 mph. This means you’re riding at about 22 feet per second. The average car length is roughly 14.7 feet, meaning you’re traveling at a car and a half a second (roughly). Now imagine if someone tries to switch lanes without looking and you’re two cars behind them?

Now, double those figures. Traveling at 30 mph, you’re going 44 feet per second, that’s 3 full car lengths a second. According to an independent braking distance study from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, they took a small variety of motorcycles and tested them from varying speeds to a complete stop. At 30mph, the bikes came to a complete stop at approximately 39 to 44 feet.

Now, let’s take into account a .6 second reaction time (according to BikeSafer.com). So, If you’re traveling at 30mph while lane splitting around stopped cars and a car pulls out in front of you, you’ll waste 26 feet reacting to the car and around 39-44 feet stopping—totaling 65-70 feet. That’s almost five car lengths. So, you’ll need to not only be looking five cars ahead, but if someone pulls out in front of you before those five cars, you’re probably screwed.

remember this guy?

I'm Breaking the Law

Do I split lanes over 50mph? I did this morning on the way into the office. Have I traveled more than 15 mph over the flow of traffic, you betcha'. Should I have done either? Probably not. But how serious of a ticket will that be anyway? It's an un-enforceable law. It's a way for cops to stop you for being an asshole.

I once received a speeding ticket for a perceived speed. I was being a dumbass kid traveling way too fast and probably deserved reckless driving. But the ticket I received—because the sheriff couldn't clock me from his radar gun—was easy to drop. Now will I go home tonight and travel 100mph through cars that are dead stopped on the 405? No. But the guy who does that should get a ticket and will through this law.

This is purely my opinion on the matter, but the few silly restrictions with the new proposed law are greatly outweighed by the benefits. You decide for yourself, and feel free to think less of me for my opinion in the comment section below.

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Lead Image Courtesy of HOG Magazine 


In the Curve: Lane Splitting - That Magic Number, 15 mph
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