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Dolan: Motorcycles and lane sharing in California

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Jeff Chiu/2009 AP Lane sharing by motorcycles can be a very controversial topic, but studies show the practice improves traffic conditions and can save motorcyclists’ lives. (Jeff Chiu/AP)

t has happened to every car and truck driver in California. Sitting in stopped or slow-moving rush-hour traffic on the freeway and a motorcycle flies right past your driver’s side window, traveling in between the cars.

Lane sharing by motorcyclists is a very controversial topic. It can be frightening for auto drivers to be unexpectedly passed by a fast, loud bike, and it can enrage them that the motorcyclist is permitted to keep moving while the auto driver cannot, but studies show that the practice of lane sharing saves motorcyclists’ lives and improves traffic conditions overall.

One of the main safety advantages for motorcyclists in lane sharing on freeways is that they are not stopping behind the car ahead of them in heavy traffic, exposing them to being rear-ended by a car or truck approaching them from behind who does not see them. This kind of rear-end collision accounts for more than 25 percent of all motorcycle-involved collisions. One recent study concluded that if lane-sharing was legal in all 50 states it would likely prevent 18,000 collisions and save the lives of 170 motorcyclists each year.

In 2012 the California Office of Traffic Safety published a report containing their findings after surveying almost 1,300 drivers and motorcyclists across the state.Almost 80 percent of motorcyclists surveyed engage in lane-sharing on freeways at least some of the time. Almost 85 percent of riders have never been hit by a vehicle or been hit by a vehicle while lane-sharing. But 67 percent of riders have had a motor vehicle actively block their path while lane-sharing, an astonishingly unsafe practice that could very easily lead to the death of a motorcyclist.

Ninety-five percent of auto drivers surveyed stated that they had never been hit by or hit a motorcycle while the motorcyclist is engaged in lane-sharing but 64 percent of motorists disapprove of the practice anyway.

Seven percent of drivers surveyed admitted to trying to prevent motorcyclists from passing them while lane-sharing, most stating because lane-sharing is unsafe (as opposed to intentionally pulling your car into the path of an oncoming motorcyclist to block him or her).

Lane sharing is only legal in California because it is not expressly illegal, the practice is not expressly prohibited by the California Vehicle Code. In 2013 the California Highway Patrol published to their website a set of guidelines detailing the safest way to engage in the practice of lane-sharing. Recognizing that the practice was at least tacitly legal, the CHP, who respond to countless fatal motorcycle collisions each year, believed some type of guidance was warranted for motorcyclists who lane-share. They were eventually forced to remove the guidelines from their website after it was determined that people might mistake the guidelines for an actual law, which they were not.

Recently, however, the California State Assembly passed a bill legalizing lane-sharing and adopting many of the CHP guidelines by a vote of 53 to 11. The bill now moves to the State Senate for consideration.

Christopher B. Dolan is owner of the Dolan Law Firm. Email questions to help@dolanlawfirm.com.

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