Monday, August 29, 2016

Editorial: California legalizing lane splitting is hugely important

The debate has been a long and boisterous one, but after all the battling, the stats finally won out and the state of California is the first in the US to officially make lane-splitting legal. Lane-splitting has always drawn a lot of controversy in America, a country dominated by car drivers who selfishly believe that the roads are theirs and theirs alone.


Even in California, the practice had previously only been allowed because it was not expressly disallowed. The California Highway Patrol (CHP) supported it because it allowed their motor officers to move more freely through the gridlock traffic that burdens the greater LA and San Francisco areas during nearly all hours of the day. Motorcyclists support it because it allows riders the ability to move through traffic and keep air flowing to prevent overheating (mostly of the rider, though some older bikes benefit from it too). Car drivers, however, have long disliked the practice because it requires that they be more attentive about lane position and lane changes. Still, most drivers who have lived in California long enough have grudgingly adapted to it, some better than others.

But by taking it from a tolerated act by virtue of lack of legislation to a totally legal act backed by legislation and with guidelines to be provided by law enforcement, California has changed the game. By making it expressly legal, California is saying that lane-splitting is not just safe enough to be a practice, it is safe enough to be a law. That has long been a major argument used by detractors of lane-splitting to fight its implementation in other states. Many opponents have argued that by allowing one kind of traffic to travel between other traffic, it increases the chances for collisions, even though this has not been backed by the statistics. If anything, it has reduced one of the most common car-motorcycle collisions, which is motorcyclists being hit from behind in slow moving or stopped traffic. When practiced with abundant and appropriate caution, lane-splitting makes motorcyclists safer with little impact on car drivers at all.

By taking the step to make lane-splitting a fully legal act, California is hopefully the first domino to fall in what will eventually be more states allowing the act. Attempts have been made to legalize lane-splitting in states such as Arizona and Oregon, but all were quashed by legislators representing car-centric constituents who are fearful of change. But now that someone else has taken a major leap, hopefully more attempts will be made to bring up lane-splitting legislation and more "trial periods" will be considered as other state legislatures begin to realize the potential safety and traffic relief benefits that lane-splitting can bring.