The Dangers of Lane Splitting
Every motorcyclist is aware that the stakes are higher when it comes to potential collisions. Without two tons of steel to protect you, a motorcyclist can sustain much more serious physical harm than an automobile driver.
This means it is critically important to pay attention to smart safety practices on the road. One of the most controversial practices involves lane splitting.
Is Lane Splitting Dangerous?
Lane splitting (sometimes called “stripe riding”) occurs when a motorcyclist rides between rows of cars that are stuck in traffic or traveling slowly in traffic.
The temptation is obvious: By splitting the lane, you can avoid lengthy traffic backups. Proponents of lane splitting (which is legal in California) say that it reduces traffic congestion, is better for the environment and can actually improve road safety.
Yet the practice also carries serious risks under certain conditions.
A federal study that examined motorcycle accidents in California over a 12-month period uncovered the following finding:
“Of the 5,969 collision-involved motorcyclists we studied, 997 were lane-splitting at the time of their collision (17%).”
That is a significant number. These reported incidents included many head, torso and extremities injuries, and some were fatal.
However, there is an important caveat: If you lane split slowly, you lower your risk.
The Link Between Speed and Safety
According to the same federal lane splitting study:
“We also examined how the manner in which riders were lane-splitting affected their likelihood of being injured for each of the three injury types using multivariate regression methods. We found that both traffic speed and motorcycle speed differential (the difference between motorcycle speed and traffic speed) were important in predicting the occurrence of injury. There was no meaningful increase in injury incidence until traffic speed exceeded roughly 50 MPH. Motorcycle speed differential was a stronger predictor of injury outcomes. Speed differentials of up to 15 MPH were not associated with changes in injury occurrence.”
In practical terms, this means that lane splitting becomes more dangerous as speed increases. When splitting lanes below 50 miles per hour, motorcyclists did not face the same risks.
So What is the Bottom Line?
Research shows that lane splitting is a mixed bag. If it is performed at a relatively low rate of speed, some studies show it does not increase your risk. However, if motorcyclists exceed 50 miles per hour (or travel at least 15 miles per hour faster than corresponding traffic) then the practice can become dangerous.
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