State of Washington May Legalize Motorcycle Lane-Splitting

A newly introduced bill could reduce congestion and provide motorcyclists a safer alternative to staying in the lane. By _ Art Friedman.

A bill that would legalize lane-splitting and provide motorcyclists some other protections has been introduced in House of Representatives in Washington State. House Bill 3159 prpoposes allowing motorcycles to ride between lanes of "congested" traffic.

Living in California, where lane-splitting (also called lane-sharing) is "permissible", we are quite familiar with lane-splitting, and strong supporters of efforts to legalize the practice in other states. While it benefits motorcyclists, of course, it also aids other motorists by relieving congestion, effectively adding a motorcycle lane. We have never seen any research that says it's more dangerous than staying in your lane when traffic is slowed way down, and the folks who conducted the research for the Hurt Report say that there are hints that it may be safer than remaining in the lane in stop-and-go traffic. The National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety suggested further research on the issue with an eye on legalizing it more widely.

For those who see it as rude or unfair and likely to annoy other drivers, our experience -- more than 40 years during which it has been permitted and combined lane-splitting experience in the tens of thousands of miles in California -- indicates that other drivers are likely to be annoyed at first, but that they eventually accept and even aid lane-splitters, almost universally. It does require that the rider be able to control his bike smoothly at low speeds and be able to judge its width. However, it is otherwise fairly simple, and may be easier for many riders than staying in the lane and making frequent sudden stops. Passing between lanes of slow-moving traffic also offers the rider a better view of the road ahead and traffic around him and gives him more control of the situation. It is legal in many other countries where it is seen to reduce congestions. We have even seen places, such as Bangkok, where special accommodations are made to aid lane-splitters and maximize the benefit.

In our view, the Washington bill is a model for this type of legislation, except that we'd change the language to read "two-wheeled motorcycle," since sidecars and trikes should not be riding two abreast or splitting lanes. The limitation of "during periods of congestion" would prevent riders from lane-splitting at high speeds.

The bill was introduced by Representative Jeff Morris and Alex Wood. Washington residents who would like to comment on the bill can find their representatives through Washington's State Legislature website site. The bill is currently being reviewed by the House's Transportation Committee, and residents whose representatives are among the 29 members of that committee should be sure to comment in they have an opinion. This link will take you a page where you can click on the committee members' names and find contact information, including email addresses.

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