Lane-Splitting: The "It's Not Safe" BS Episode

Last week I published the first editorial in a short series dedicated to lane-splitting. As promised, here's the second piece on the list, a write-up aimed at destroying another false pretense often invoked by those who oppose lane-splitting: SAFETY.
Splitting lanes, Matrix style 1 photo
Photo: Youtube capture
Safety is, per se, one of the hottest topics in the motorcycling world, regardless of which niche we are referring to. From pocket bikes for children to Dakar cross-country beasts, and from the laziest laid-back chopper to the fiercest liter-class superbike, things WILL go wrong when they can.

I could even say that learning how to ride a motorcycle and growing old riding is in fact learning how to stay safe on two or three wheels. It would be interesting to access a worldwide statistic to determine how many accidents are caused by sheer rider error compared to the number of those caused by other motorists.

So far, it looks like riders tend to crash more because of other road users than because of their errors, solely. Still, one of the perverse effects of this state of things is that motorbikes are deemed to be less safe than cars.

If you haven't gotten this by now, the explanation is very simple. A crash with the same degree of danger often yields more severe consequences for the occupants of a motorcycle than for those inside a car, no matter who is to blame for the crash.

Somehow, motorcycles have been associated with danger, and this sort of helps those who don't want to promote lane-splitting laws for bikes.

What happens between the lanes should not stay between the lanes

The "it's not fair" argument is surpassed in its degree of fallacy by the "it's not safe" BS. I mentioned many other times that there are studies that show splitting lanes is in fact the safer way. A recent study carried out by the Berkeley University of California reveals that lane-splitting, when done in a reasonable manner, helps decongesting the traffic and is in no degree any more dangerous than riding a bike under casual circumstances.

Of course, those who so vocally oppose lane-splitting will always do their best to avoid such studies and their findings, because they understand they will ruin the construct. Simply mentioning various anonymous road users who "believe" or "know" about the major dangers of lane-splitting seems to be effortlessly held just as relevant as academic studies. Well, fellows, these two are not exactly on par.

They never were, and will never be, simply because a guy's opinion can't rival a well-documented study. The funny thing is that the opponents of lane-splitting don't seem so eager to have the statistic and social science working for them... But that's just one more aspect of life we see heavily impregnated with one of the modern-day plagues, opinion-over-science.

If these guys claim they have so much evidence of how dangerous riding between the lanes is, is it THAT HARD to find a chap with decent schooling to put everything together into a readable piece and make it public?

If they have insightful knowledge of the terrible things that happen between the lanes, why keep it between the lanes and themselves? Come on, help us make the world (and its roads) a better place! Unfortunately, this is impossible because they don't really want to make roads a better place, do they?

Accidents do happen, but who's actually responsible?

Now, some of the reasons invoked against lane-splitting are circular and a logic mind will detect the false reasons quite quickly... but this is not always the case. A very good start when analyzing these crashes is to see who bears the biggest responsibility for them.

In areas where lane-splitting is illegal, a motorcyclist riding between the lanes and rear-ending a car that changes lanes without signaling in due time will also be found guilty. And it's okay, but for the sake of truth, we should also try to determine which of the two behaviors is more risky.

A rider sharing the lane with a car is definitely less of a menace than a driver who changes lanes without checking with his or her mirrors and using the turn signals BEFORE turning the steering wheel. If you don't agree with the statement above, you might as well close this page and go do something more productive and with a lesser impact on your self-righteous ideas.

The circular argumentation I have heard so many times is that the rider was not supposed to be there. Well, this is true, but this doesn't have anything to do with the fact that a driver is not checking the mirrors and won't use the damn turn signals before changing lanes. So we are obviously talking about two people who have been at fault.

Moreover, had the driver checked his surroundings, he or she might have spotted the rider and postponed changing lanes until the motorcycle passed. Or maybe using the turn signals and letting those behind the car know about the intended action could cause the rider to slow down and give way prior to filtering on, don't you think?

Speed DOES make things worse

Of course, if the rider is speeding like a mad man, there's not a single thing to help a motorist prevent an impact, with all the mirror checking and turn signals. And that's because the time-space needed for the rider to change course (if he or she has room to do so) or brake is simply insufficient.

Riding between the lanes is already a risky business, with extra traffic-related variables that need to be assessed, and adding excessive speed only makes things worse. And I second those who say that riders splitting lanes at high speed are kind of asking for it. They usually don't have time to react and mend things when the slightest "traffic variable" oscillates a bit out of what they perceive as "ideal." Traffic is never ideal, save maybe for those trips on good, but lonely roads... and sometimes not even then or there.

Both Berkeley and the California Highway Patrol say that lane splitting is safe and productive up to a certain speed. Arguably, the safety limit was indicated as being 50 mph (80 km/h).

Even I believe that this speed is sometimes too high to venture in and out of lanes, but it looks like it was indicated because traffic moving at higher speeds is behaving in a normal way and therefore there would be no need to split lanes.

The most important factor in this equation is the relative speed, meaning the speed difference between the rider splitting lanes and the rest of the traffic. The relative speed for safe filtering was indicated to be 15 mph (24 km/h). In certain cases, even this speed may be inappropriate, but this, again, is up to the rider to decide.

What you should all understand from this piece is the fact that it's very easy to say a certain maneuver a rider could sometimes do in traffic is dangerous and think all your problems are solved.

And this is a bi-directional matter. Drivers cannot use the riders' presence in the wrong spot at the wrong time for them doing something illegal (changing lanes without checking and signaling) and conversely, riders are not entitled to say drivers are out hunting for them as they dash at 60 mph (96 km/h) between lanes of cars doing 10 mph (16 km/h) or even stopped.

Most of the rear-endings involving bikes smashing into cars happen because drivers inadvertently change lanes without checking their surroundings, it's a fact, so please stop blaming riders for being there when you do something that must not be done.

Catch up with us next week for the final part of the story, talking about road rage, idiots on both two and four wheels (or more) and other unpleasant things.
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