Jul 25, 2011

Lane Sharing Study

Steve Guiderian has published a study, "LANE SHARING: A GLOBAL SOLUTION FOR MOTORCYCLE SAFETY, which compares the safety record of the only state in the US that allows traffic filtering and lane sharing with the abysmal record of the rest of the country. This is, as far as I know, the only study that uses data instead of emotion and speculation to look at the safety of this traffic management tactic. His conclusions found that "California does have a lower rate of fatal rear-end motorcycle crashes when compared to other similar motorcycling states. This figure also shows that the rate of fatal rear-end collisions in California is also lower than the national rate, which includes many states with a limited riding season and fewer motorcycle riders." Guiderian also found that "California has fewer motorcycle deaths involving a motorcycle rearending another vehicle, and significantly fewer deaths from a motorcycle being rear-ended by another vehicle."

One aspect of lane sharing that Guiderian does not address is the fact that lane sharing increases the viability of motorcycle commuting, which would increase the visibility of motorcycles in typical traffic which could also result in an improved motorcycling safety record. If you have ridden in California, you know there is no downside to lane sharing. Superstition, fear of the unknown, and conservative timidity is all that prevents all 50 states from allowing lane sharing. Claiming safety as one of the restraints is unbelievable.


  1. I've got this great mental image of some minimally skilled bandanna wearing dude with apes and hiway pegs (in the gyno riding position, feet wide apart) attempting to lane split. As he blats his way between the lanes his pegs get stuck on two cars at once. All his righteous bros rally around and denounce the unsafeness and get it repealed, in addition to pointing at the cage operators for causing this mishap.

  2. While I'd love to be able to lane-split here in Georgia, I still don't think this proves the safety or lack thereof of lane-splitting, since it focuses on rear-end collisions. Who's gonna have a rear-end collision while lane splitting? I'd love to see a study specifically on lane-splitting.

    But you gave me a topic idea for #motochat! Thanks for that.

  3. John,

    You missed the point. No lane splitting is what gets you rear-ended. One of the few crashes that motorcyclists have very little control of is getting rear-ended at a light/sign/traffic jam. The first thing I always do, after having lived in CA, when traffic stops is get lined up so that I can split lanes if the cage behind me doesn't appear to be slowing down.

    Since CA's rider mileage is higher than anyones (Minnesotans claim that honor, but it's bullshit) and their crash numbers are no worse than the rest of the country, that might be all you can get for an actual lane-splitting study.

  4. It does take reason and skill to split lanes. You can't expect to blast drivers' ear drums with your straight pipes and be treated with caution. You have to ride with an extra sense of caution because no one, even in CA, is looking for you to be in that spot, especially in high speed traffic (where you shouldn't be splitting lanes anyway). CA has recently banned non-EPA approved pipes on 2012-and-beyond motorcycles. What will follow is making that law retroactive to 1973 when the EPA first started regulating noise on motorcycle exhausts. Personally, I'd like to see all of the loud pipe manufacturers go broke and to jail, but that probably won't happen for another 5 years (the broke part, the US will never be smart enough to punish corporate law breakers).

    So, there is a price for the privilege of lane-splitting. Americans aren't big on paying the price for privileges (like elective military invasions to steal natural resources). I expect Californians to lose this privilege before the rest of us get it.

  5. I don't think this tells us much. In my limited driving experience in California I was amazed at how unaggressive and calm traffic was compared to what I am used to driving in NY and Boston a lot. I wonder how the overall rear-ending rate compares to the rest of the U.S.? In Boston cutting off people trying to merge is considered sport, and in NY people in traffic jams accelerate hard until traffic stops and then jam on the brakes and then repeat. In CA traffic jams just seem to keep rolling along slower and slower until they fade to a gradual stop.

  6. I have heard that the nation's worst drivers are in those states; New York particularly. I've been in Boston and I thought it was considerably more sedate than LA; aggression and speed-wise. Boston drivers are pretty incompetent, though. For my money, Houston and Seattle might be the most dangerous places to split lanes. Houston, because the drivers are incompetent and aggressive, and Seattle because everyone there is multitasking and doing it horribly.

    Regardless, I suspect that US drivers are not much worse than urban drivers from other countries. The obvious way to determine if lane sharing can work is to try it. Once, Americans were smart enough to know that democracy was an experiment.

    "“The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the republican model of government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.” - George Washington

  7. Frankly, I get tired of this lane-sharing debate as it isn't going to happen in the real world. The average citizen and politician looks at motorcycles as dangerous vehicles that require more regulation, especially with regard to loud pipes. The typical accident reported on the news around here reinforces that opinion--some motorcyclist kills themselves by crashing at excessive speed while doing something stupid. Lane-splitting is not coming to our state in any forseeable future.

  8. I think, in the near future, you're probably right. In most states, the oil crisis is totally off of the radar and as a nation we're going to be "surprised" when Saudi Arabia (for one of many sources) suddenly announces that its "reserves" were pure fantasy and gas prices shoot through the roof. Some pseudo-conservative douchebag will even try to convince us that "nobody saw this coming."

    However, some states I(Oregon, for example) are already considering alternative transportation systems and looking at ways to encourage lower resource consumption. Hence, that state's recent study (2010). I hope the concept will find traction some places sooner than you think. But I've been wrong before. "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public."

  9. With enough pressure from citizens, we can get lane splitting legalized in more places. Right now one big barrier is the police. The CHP endorses it, but Washington State Police, for example, have helped shoot it down twice. We need the support of the police, and then we can get it done. With some focused education when it becomes law places, coupled with reminders that any car trying to rage against a motorcycle will be looking at a felony charge (as it is in California), and it can work well. It will just take a little while for the attitudes to adjust and for people to realize that it's okay if somebody gets there before them. Just live and let live. If you wanna beat traffic and save gas, get a bike.

  10. I have read the supposed report by Mr. Guderian and the only conclusion that I came up with is that motorcyclists need more training.

    In his "report" he uses statistics that show more motorcyclists are killed when they are the striking vehicle than when they are struck from behind. He fails to say how many of these fatalities are the result of a vehicle changing lanes in front of the motorcyclist.

    He also goes on to say that a motorcyclist has a better chance of making an evasive maneuver to avoid a collision when the vehicles are moving the same direction and this may be true, but I would rather have twelve feet to maneuver in than 5 or six. Besides if his statistics are correct and more motorcyclists rear end vehicles than are rear ended, I am not so sure that they would have the skill level needed to avoid the crash.

    I am a MSF RiderCoach and the statistic that is used in the BRC2 (which is the old ERC) is that only 3.2 percent of accidents are from the rear.

    If you are watching your mirrors and not stopping dead center, right on the bumper of the vehicle ahead of you (which by the way I see a lot of riders doing) you have a fighting chance of avoiding the crash in the event it does happen.

    I believe that this report is a feeble attempt to justify what can be a very dangerous practice.

  11. [A non-related note: I really hate my Mac. The damn thing clearly has the least competent OS in the history of computers with "genuine people personality." If this computer was a person, I'd send it to Texas to be executed. the damn thing belongs to my employer, so all I can do is leave it on my desk and hope someone steals it. So far, after 3 years of trying to lose it), nobody wants it.]

    Anyway, I suspect that most people who are afraid of lane-splitting haven't tried it or have minimal experience. After living in CA for a decade, before and after living where lane-splitting is illegal, I think I've lost a powerful survival and commuting tool by returning to the over-regulated and timid Land of the Conservatives (the Midwest).

    Looking for "proof" that lane-splitting is a safety tool is a pretty funny argument coming from an MSF instructor, since the MSF cautions coaches and state programs not to couple safety training with crash statistics because training doesn't seem to make riders safer. Counter-intuitive, I know, but ask the MSF for their recommendation if you don't believe me. Proof is hard to come by in a non-experimental culture.

    The best we have is comparing CA's safety record to the rest of the country. The data certainly doesn't make CA look worse than anyone else. Critics will claim that CA riders are on their bikes year around and that makes them more skilled. I can't argue against that, but I would ride my bike a lot more if I could split lanes which would make me a better rider, too. Proponents will argue that riding full time gives better data. Also true. Sooner or later, you just have to decide if you want to be a protectionist culture or show some guts and try something new. You don't have to split lanes just because it's legal. "You are all individuals. You can think for yourselves."

    It's another tool in the rider's arsenal of escape routes. Take it away through excessive regulation/policing (they are the same thing, you know) and some riders will ignore the option, some will abuse it, and some will use it wisely and make motorcycling more practical.


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