Skidmarks – Splitting Headache

California Riders: Do it politely and then STFU already

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Let me tell you something about lane-splitting: I love lane-splitting. It makes my grim little existence a little bit better, at times almost tolerable. When people ask, “What if you didn’t live in California?” I tell them that’s not living: you can’t lane split. If you can’t lane split, what’s the point of enduring rain, fog, heat and psychotic and/or distracted drivers?

So, I must have been thrilled when the California Highway Patrol and the California Office of Traffic Safety posted official lane-splitting guidelines, right? Actually, I wasn’t. Not only do the guidelines make it look like the State is encouraging us to lane split – which feels like my elderly aunt giving me love-making advice in a low Barry White voice – it’s redundant information for anybody who has lane-split more than 10 miles, and worst of all, it could open the door to actual legislation regarding the practice.

Motorcycle rider lane splitting without socks

The most reckless thing here is the lack of socks. Dude: Foot fungus. Seriously. Google it. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

But isn’t that a good thing? Shouldn’t it be regulated? After all, isn’t lane-splitting a gray area? Say “gray area” one more time, and I will cut you. Suppose I happen to be an enthusiastic proponent of picking my nose while driving (which, actually, I kind of am, so we don’t have to suppose). Do I need the government to tell me how deep I can go (One knuckle? Fingertip-deep only?), or how big the boogers need to be to properly flick them? Would I tell people who ask me if I can legally pick my nose in a moving car, “Well…it’s kind of a gray area?”

No, and do you know why? Because this is the United States of America, and if something isn’t expressly prohibited by law, you can do it. There is no “gray area. Like mining your schnoz, lane splitting in California is 100 percent legal, as legal as cuddling a puppy or pleasuring oneself with a blueberry pie while watching “2 Broke Girls” (Caution: Pie filling may be hot).

Driver Attitudes about lane-splitting

It’s the same with lane-splitting. Nobody is going to credibly state that riding through stopped or slow-moving traffic at a 10 or 15 mph speed differential is unsafe or reckless. Anybody who has lane-split on a motorcycle knows it’s no more dangerous than just following cars and trucks in stop-and-go traffic. That’s why in California, hardly the state with the most sensible regulation, there is no law against travelling between lanes of cars. Because we don’t need one.

Here’s what our four-wheeled friends don’t understand: There arealready laws against riding like a jackass. California Vehicle Code Sec. 21703 tells us we can’t “follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent.” CVC Sec. 22350 holds everybody to the “reasonable and prudent” standard regarding how fast we travel, and 22107 states you can’t change lanes or alter course on a roadway without “reasonable safety” and signaling your intent. Then there’s the big daddy of traffic citations: CVC 23103, a misdemeanor violation which calls for a fine and a minimum of 5 days wearing an orange jumpsuit and slippers as a guest of the county for “willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.”

Police Interceptor

The fact that these laws are seldom enforced is proof that banning lane splitting is pointless. Our CHP, professional organization that it is, is probably understaffed: In 1970, California had one officer for every 2,000 registered vehicles in the state. In 2009 (the last year I could find with staffing numbers), each brave Chippie had to sheppard 4,693. Texting, talking on the phone while driving or sticking a suction cup to your windshield is also against the law, but you would never guess it in the San Francisco Bay Area, where each and every passenger vehicle driver practices all three activities with great abandon, sometimes simultaneously. ILU. LOL! WTF? KRSH!

The point is: The dangerous and concerning behavior surrounding lane splitting in California is already illegal and always has been. If Mr. Gixxer is blasting along at 80 mph in 50 mph traffic, ironic T-shirt riding up his torso as he weaves in and out of lanes of cars, he’s not practicing lane-splitting – he’s engaged in reckless driving and probably breaking any number of other vehicle-code provisions. Calling what he’s doing “lane splitting” is like referring to a random stabbing as “unpermitted surgery” and then calling for a ban on hysterectomies.

Rider Attitudes about Lane-Splitting chart

Will banning lane splitting stop that guy? Really? Like anti-gun legislation, it will merely punish the law-abiding. Some VFR-mounted accountant or orthodontist in a faded Aerostich patiently riding 8 mph faster than barely moving cars is hardly the seething cancer to be carved from the living tissue of our transportation system.

So, we don’t need a law banning lane splitting. Do we need a law allowing it? Well, like I said before, you don’t need to legalize something that’s already very clearly legal. Here’s why: If you “legalize” something, you have to first define the practice. So, some person – okay, not a person, a lawyer, or worse yet, many lawyers – will decide what constitutes safe and legal lane-splitting. Will you have to wear a vest? Never go over 15.25 mph? Only do it when there are three or more lanes? Can’t do it if you have hard luggage? What about really wide motorcycles, like air-cooled BMWs or guys with knobby knees? Hey, the sky’s the limit when it comes to bureaucratic meddling.

Mini CHP Cruiser

The California Highway Patrol is currently developing a prototype cruiser to combat lane-splitting. Photo: Robert Couse Baker

Then, say they pass that law, and now we’re all lane splitting with some non-rider’s idea of what’s safe in mind when somebody screws up and is gruesomely crushed between two big rigs. Yet another lawyer will point out that if only the law called for a 7.5 mph speed differential instead of 10, little Billy would still have a daddy today. “Billy’s Law,” as it will no doubt be known, will call for that revision, and all will be well until 18 months later when another hapless motorcyclist is killed going 6 mph faster than stopped traffic and the legislature responds with “Sally’s Law,” and so on.

At some point, you’ll only be able to lane split if you’re pushing your motorcycle while completely encased in Nerf foam – but only during morning and afternoon commute hours and if the vehicles you pass are shut off with transmissions in ‘park.’ Lane splitting will be legal in one state of the Union, but, really, just in name only.

nerf

What can you, the motorcycling public, do to prevent a dystopia where motorcycles will be just as attractive a commuting alternative as a 1965 Ford F-150 with a missing windshield?  Four simple words, which I will refrain from typing out: STFU. Seriously, STFU. Don’t talk about your “rights,” don’t brag about how great it is, just say, “Yeah, lane-splitting makes my day a little easier – thanks for putting up with it. I’m sorry if I bothered you.” When you actually ride between cars, remember that you’re scaring the shit out of thousands of people each day, so try to be nice. Don’t go too fast. Don’t get too close. Do you really need an aftermarket exhaust?

Because at the end of the day, if motorists – who outnumber motorcyclists in California at least 40 to one – want to ban lane splitting, they will. If you think you can go protest on the Capitol steps, start making your placard now, but keep in mind there were huge protests against the helmet law before it passed in 1992, sometimes with tens of thousands of bikers showing up.

Good luck with that. You can always get a vest that reads, “Not lane-splitting under protest.”

Want to keep lane splitting? Stop talking about it.

Gabe Ets-Hokin is a senior partner in the firm of Eeny, Meeny, Miney and Moe, specializing in legislative solutions to non-existent problems. He’s best known for writing “Frankie’s Law,” legislation in 34 states and the District of Columbia which bans dog walking in enclosed parking garages while using Robitussin DM and listening to a “This American Life” podcast on even-numbered Saturdays.

 

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  • john burns

    Ahhahahaahhaaa… i agree. It’s one of those things that if you need written instructions how to do it, you probly just shouldn’t…

  • JMDonald

    I live in Texas now. I miss lane splitting.

  • mudgun

    Great article, great writing, great “thinking”. Hope folks pay attention and STFU.

  • Steven Holmes

    Got to be the most logical article I’ve ever seen about the topic. Great column, and I’m seriously looking forward to another.

  • Old MOron

    I never liked those damned guidelines, either.
    Glad they’re gone.

  • DavidyArica Freire

    That was very entertaining, I can mostly imagine most cars are probably used to
    Bikes splitting lanes.

  • WTF

    Hahahaha.

  • http://www.themotorcycleobsession.com/ Chris Cope

    I agree in theory but the problem with not talking about something is sometimes people don’t know it exists. So, you get drivers in California who think they’re helping to uphold The Law by deliberately manoeuvring into your path. And you get riders in 49 other states missing out because not talking about filtering results in there not being enough solid research to demonstrate its benefits.

    • Uncommon Sense

      Lane splitting caught me off guard during a recent vacation in Norcal. Scared the sh*t out of me while driving. I had to remind myself to keep checking the mirrors for bikes splitting as I was not expecting it coming from one of the other 49 states.

      I do wish it were legal everywhere though as it is safer and more convenient for bikers. However, there would really need to be a campaign to let cagers know it is legal as way too many in my state would try to block the lane out of spite.

    • http://www.motou.info Gabe Ets-Hokin

      Chris, I get where you’re coming from, but I get ‘blocked’ like you’re describing maybe one car in 5,000. And lane splitting will never, ever, ever be legalized in any other state because we’re outnumbered so badly.

  • Don Falloon

    Lane splitting is mandatory in my commute where the freeways are under constant construction. Or deconstruction, your pick. It’s now more than a habit; it’s damn near an obligation to help remind cagers that they don’t have a monopoly on riding the braille dots on the freeway. My M50 is water-cooled, but that fan blows a lot of hot air on my legs when stuck in traffic, so…

    Okay, there was one time I lane-split and REALLY ticked off a couple drivers. I just kinda forgot I was driving my Mustang and not my Zook that morning…

  • Don Falloon

    Oh, and I know well the CHP tactics with those little cars you can’t see in your mirrors, stealthy little buggers they are… didn’t think I should be driving my Galaxie on public streets.

  • Allison Sullivan

    I had a friend from the US East Coast travel to the UK with me, and lane splitting horrified him. He said he can’t even imagine if it was legal around where he lives, because every pissed-off tin can driver would be deliberately trying to knock you off your bike for “pushing in front”. That’s sad, and ridiculous, but so typically American. I grew up lane splitting, and done with due regard it’s efficient and safe.

    If lane splitting were legal where I live in Canada, I would absolutely commute on my bike. But as it’s not, and I have to sit in traffic, then I might as well be in the car. At least it has heaters in the winter and air-con in the summer.

  • gerald estes

    the next level of split lane – a bi directional, only 2 lane state highway…is why air bags, seat belts, helmuts, cell phone holders, no fault, limited liability insurance and virtual gps are just soooo….ninny. the scenerio i mention? literally a legislative life or death situation, not an interstate highway in any language and why the range of say a precision m16 is only maybe 1 kilometre. imagine the barriers of visitors from other places, place where maybe even ‘lanes’ of any kind exist at all and id say ‘job security ad infinitum’ – used to go something like get in, sit down and shut up.

    • http://www.motorcycle.com/ Sean Alexander

      What?

      • gerald estes

        what whut? timmy and tommy whut, the whut bros. you need to go south of the border, way south, and watch how vehicles are driven – lanes or not, mostly zero insurance, hardly any cash money of any kind, no helmuts, glasses/goggles, typ. at least 3 locals situated on and motoring about on underpowered, poor handling, roughly maintained scooters…and then use your corporate budget to fly yourself over to germany, down a few pints of burgerhoffermeister beer and go lane splitting on the autobohn, amidst the like minded porsches, audis, bemmers, etc. get real or get out – my other ride is capable of mach 2.7 and wont accept splitting ‘lanes’ at all. fuggin a

        • http://www.motorcycle.com/ Sean Alexander

          Huh?

  • Chris_in_Kalifornia

    All I will say is that the california driver’s handbook calls it “Lane Sharing” and if there’s an accident it is presumed to be the fault of the overtaking vehicle’s driver. It IS called out and by that name. I used to commute 90 miles each way to work at LAX, down the 405 and home again in the afternoon. Drove my car off and on. When I got home from the car drive I was gritting my teeth and biting people’s heads off (figuratively of course). When I got home from commuting on the bike, I arrived an hour earlier and was smiling and in a good mood. Only problems I ever had were one case of a carpool lane driver exiting illegally and hitting me, no injuries and a guy who tried to hit me and failed. I did however, knock the side mirror off his car when I did get safely past him. Good thing I had gloves on when I smacked it. Lastly one guy hit me with his mirror by accident and it got me in the ribs, again no injuries. I had on insulated Bibs and parka in hunter orange. How the heck do you not see a guy in a bright orange pumpkin suit (so to speak) on a motorcycle? Blind much?

  • mudgun

    I can’t help but think how easy it would be to make a “motorcycle” lane on most modern interstates just by using paint. Perhaps down the middle of the two auto lanes? Or on the left side of the left lane?

    • http://www.themotorcycleobsession.com/ Chris Cope

      Ask bicyclists how well their bicycle lanes are working out…

  • john3347

    I died in California 4 times in one month splitting lanes when some cager decided to switch lanes without checking around himself. I’m glad I live in Georgia where nobody allows lane splitting.

    • rudedog4

      john3347? No, you’re Lazarus!

    • crapsandwich

      Maybe I’ll see you on the roads John. I got hit head on, on my 05 Repsol in Aliso viejo… If one can’t see a motorcycle that is orange and purple, stay off the roads

  • http://lanesplittingislegal.com/ Surj Gish

    Gabe, your new-found disdain for the lane splitting guidelines ignore the fact that talking about lane splitting and having those guidelines as a reference point has actually improved both rider behavior and driver perception of splitting. You need look no further than the 2014 OTS Lane Share Survey and the OTS-commissioned SafeTREC study of crash data to see the following:

    -Since the release and promotion of the guidelines, more riders are splitting more slowly.
    -Since the release and promotion of the guidelines, driver perception of splitting has shifted in the direction of “less negative.”
    -Of the reported tiny number of fatalities in lane splitting-involved crashes, ALL occurred when riders were not adhering to the guidelines.

    Both the OTS survey and the SafeTREC study have been covered in CityBike in recent months, so you know where to get that data. ;)

    So if no one talks about splitting, how do new riders learn about it? How do we let riders who split too fast know that their behavior is ruining it for the rest of us? Perhaps surprisingly, a lot of riders will miss your column and therefore be unaware of your new Fight Club-esque rules on splitting.

    The guidelines, and talking sensibly about splitting—and moto matters in general—are both good things.

  • bbradsby

    Travel more, Enlarge the Mind as well as this conversation: basically the Entire World, outside of the 49 States of Idiocy, understands that lane splitting/filtering makes common good sense, puts no one else in harm’s way, and is not dangerous if done prudently.

  • mudgun

    The secret to advancing the lane splitting practice is convince cagers that it’s to their benefit. A “bumper sticker” saying that’s catchy would help.
    ” LANE SPLITTING = LESS TRAFFIC” (Just an example) The point is, if there’s something in it for drivers they’ll cooperate and maybe even help.

  • crapsandwich

    I miss lane splitting in California. Now I live i Georgia in the country, there are barely any cagers on these roads. It’s pretty nice. It would be better if we could split lanes in the city though. The traffic is horrible and I’ll do anything I can to avoid it. Great article sir.