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New Findings – Road Rage Threat to Lane-Splitting Motorcycles in California is Down-Trending

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Lane-splitting motorcyclist in California

Driving in SoCal is a precarious affair with frequent accidents and eminent congestion. So, it’s very easy to give the stink-eye to the motorcycle that zooms by your door in between your lane and the one next to you when you’re stuck going the pace of a clogged artery. We might even understand the jealousy. However, findings from a survey done in May of this year suggest that motorists are more of a threat to lane-splitting motorcycles than those motorcycles are a threat to safety on the freeway, but it’s getting better.

The survey commissioned by the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) and the Safe Transportation Research and Education Center (SafeTREC) at the University of California, Berkeley reports that of the 709 California lane-splitting motorcyclists interviewed this year, 4.7% had been hit by a vehicle while lane-splitting in the past 12 months, while only 1.7% had hit a vehicle while lane-splitting. These numbers have been dropping substantially over the past two years: in 2013, 8.6% reported being hit with 4% riders hitting vehicles; and in 2012 11.8% had been hit by vehicles with 3.2% riders hitting other vehicles.

The majority of motorcycle wrecks caused by lane-splitting are from vehicles hitting motorcycles, so what is causing motorists to run into bikes? The riders perceive that their biggest threats are distracted drivers on cell phones either texting or talking, or just not looking in their rear view mirrors before changing lanes. Of the 951 vehicle motorists that were surveyed, 3.8% said they tried to prevent a motorcycle from lane-splitting in the past 12 months. They cited their main reasons for preventing lane-splitting were they felt it was unsafe and unfair that motorcyclists could cut the line, AKA road rage. Whether these angry motorists are the main cause of the accidents or not, the fact remains that 54% of riders are encountering lane-splitting prevention maneuvers from motorists. When cut off from lane-splitting the rider must execute evasive action if time allows, or a wreck ensues.

These motorcycle wrecks occur on average between 20-25 mph as traffic is usually under 20 mph when motorcyclists split the lanes and travel on average 5-10 mph faster than traffic. What to do when involved in a motorcycle accident. These accidents most often result in a broken side view mirror on the vehicle. That warrants the question if lane-splitting should be permissible. Do the benefits outweigh the safety issues? The benefits of lane-splitting were not assessed with this survey, just the overall activity between motorists and lane-splitters in a 12 month period.

We are able to see from this survey that lane-splitting accidents have decreased along with incidences of road rage. In 2012, 7.3% of motorists said they tried to prevent a motorcycle from lane-splitting, and 19.1% said they witnessed a lane-splitting accident. In 2013 it was 6.4% of motorists that tried to cut off a lane-splitter, and 17.3% saw a lane-splitting accident. This year’s 3.8% of motorists preventing lane-splitting is a huge improvement over the past two years. Also, the number of lane-splitting accidents seen dropped to 12.7% in 2014. The number of these angry motorists and the accidents reported from lane-splitting are dropping substantially every year, suggesting a possible correlation.

Could it be that the motorists are learning to share the road? Well that might be a subjective opinion, but a new survey question was added this year that just might fill in the gap for us: as of 2014, the survey now asks if the motorists had heard or seen anything in the media about lane-splitting. This year 13.7% of drivers said they had heard about it, with TV, Radio and Internet being the top 3 sources. Unfortunately this question wasn’t asked in 2012 and 2013 for comparable data, but next year we should get a better picture as to the possibility that educating the public on lane-splitting is taming those ragin-cagers.

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The author, Joel Martin, is an avid motorcycle rider and enthusiast who serves as the Online Marketing Manager for Law Tigers.

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