As much as we would like to think otherwise, the simple truth is that the roads and highways throughout the nation — including right here in Rhode Island — have always been a very dangerous place for motorcyclists. Indeed, this is still the case despite all of the advancements we’ve made in road safety and knowledge we’ve gained about dangerous driving practices.

Interestingly enough, lawmakers in California recently passed a bill legalizing a highly unusual riding practice known as lane-splitting, which supporters believe will actually reduce the number of serious and even fatal motorcycle accidents, and eventually become the norm in other states.

What is lane-splitting?

Lane-splitting is when motorcyclists weave their way through traffic congestion by riding between lanes at varying speeds. Until last Friday, the practice was considered neither legal nor illegal in California, existing in a sort of legal limbo such that state lawmakers never expressly outlawed it and the Highway Patrol provided its tacit approval by not citing people for doing it.

What does the new law accomplish?

At its core, the new law legalizes lane-splitting. However, it does not currently provide any sort of details as to speed limits and safety guidelines. That’s because the Highway Patrol was given the authority to do this and the agency is expected to release the final details in the coming weeks.

Is lane-splitting actually any safer?

A study conducted by researchers at the University of California-Berkeley found that of the 5,969 motorcycle accidents that took place in the state from July 2012 to August 2013, 997 involved lane-splitting. Despite this finding, the authors concluded that it was a relatively safe practice if performed at speeds of 50-miles-per-hour or lower.

In fact, the UC Berkeley researchers made the following eye-opening findings:

  • The fatality rate among lane-splitting motorcyclists traveling at moderate speeds was 1.2 percent versus 3 percent overall.
  • The head injury rate among lane-splitting motorcyclists traveling at moderate speeds was 9 percent versus 17 percent overall.
  • The torso injury rate among lane-splitting motorcyclists traveling at moderate speeds was 19 percent versus 29 percent overall.

Are most Californians accepting of lane-splitting?

Surprisingly, most Californians don’t seem to like lane-splitting. Indeed, the state’s Office of Traffic Safety determined that two-thirds of surveyed motorists expressed displeasure with the practice.

Is Rhode Island one of the state’s considering lane-splitting?

The states identified as potentially following California’s lead include Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, Texas and Washington.

What are your thoughts on this subject? Is this something you’d be willing to consider allowing here in Rhode Island?

If you’ve been seriously injured or lost a loved one in a motorcycle crash, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional to learn more about your options for pursuing justice.