In 2016, California made it legal for motorcyclists to perform lane-splitting maneuvers – or riding on the white line between vehicles – to quickly move through heavy traffic and avoid hazardous driving situations. As this bill became a law, activists in other states pushed ahead with their efforts in legalizing lane-splitting.
“Lane splitting is designed to allow motorcyclists the ability to move through very slow or stopped traffic,” explained Chris Bulger, Founder and Chief Instructor, TNT Motorcycling LTD. “This helps traffic to move along easier,” as there are fewer vehicles waiting.
As a motorist, you may initially find lane-splitting alarming and feel unsure about how to accommodate riders who perform this maneuver. Thankfully, you can use the following four smart driving techniques to navigate safely around lane-splitting motorcycles.
1. Carefully Look and Listen
When it comes to remaining prepared for lane-splitting motorcyclists, watching far behind your vehicle is just as important as focusing your gaze well ahead. As you make your normal quick glances in your rear-view mirror, take a second to check for the presence of motorcyclists in the traffic behind you. Motorcycles’ relatively small size makes them hard to see, even while checking carefully, so listen as you look to confirm or rule out their presence.
Motorcycle exhaust notes range from a mild buzz to a beefy rumble, but their sound profile is distinctly different from all other vehicles. If you are not familiar with these memorable tones, crack your window open and listen carefully whenever you share the road with lane-splitting motorcycles. Remember to note how the exhaust changes in tone and volume as the rider accelerates through the gears.
2. Hold Your Lane Position
Lane-splitters need drivers to pilot their vehicles predictably to safely ride down the white line between traffic. As you see a motorcyclist coming up relatively fast on the white line at either side of your vehicle, hold your position in the center of the lane to allow the rider safe passage.
“When faced with lane-splitting motorcycles, continue your normal driving pace and don't move out of the way to accommodate the motorcycle,” motorcycle instructor and Director at Throttle Basics, Inc., Felicia "PeteyVee" Verrett, advised. “The motorcyclist will make the adjustment[s].”
With your predictable positioning and steadfast actions, the motorcyclist can make all necessary speed and position adjustments to move freely between vehicles on nearly any roadway. This also allows motorcyclists to avoid potentially dangerous roadway conditions, including uneven pavement and potholes.
3. Always Signal Early
Predictability remains the name of the game when it comes to changing lanes as well. Always take the time to signal well before you intend to switch to a different lane. This not only allows all other motorists to alter their speed and position to accommodate for your lane change, but also gives you time to watch for lane-splitting motorcyclists.
As you flip on your right or left turn signal, turn down the music and quietly listen for motorcycle exhaust as you make your final checks. Look through your side and rear-view mirror, and over your shoulder, several times to check for motorcyclists coming up the white line and any vehicles or other obstructions in your intended path. If all is clear, you are safe to slowly switch lanes while remaining alert for any abrupt changes along the way.
4. Note Speed Discrepancies
According to a report released by the University of California - Berkley, lane-splitting is a relatively safe practice when motorcyclists maintain a speed differential of approximately 15 mph or less. Many motorcyclists learn to keep their pace at a maximum of 10 mph while lane-splitting, but this is just a guideline, not a guarantee. Therefore, even while watching diligently, you can never be sure just how fast a motorcyclist is traveling at any given time.
Plan your route carefully, so you can always wait an extra minute for lane-splitting motorcycles to safely pass by before changing lanes or performing other important maneuvers. In addition, always look, listen and move purposefully to account for how fast motorcycles can end up in your rear-view mirror.
When you aim to comfortably share the roadway with lane-splitting motorcycles, your efforts go a long way in ensuring everyone remains safe on their travels.