Me: I think you guys in LA are crazy to lane split on these packed highways.
Colleague: I think Texas bikers are crazy to not wear helmets.
That was the beginning of an hour-long conversation, at the end of which we simply had to agree to disagree. And to be honest, I haven’t given either topic much thought in the two years since.
Until last week.
As reported in the LA Times on June 17, the CA Senate Transportation Committee passed CA AB 51, moving motorcycle lane splitting one step closer to becoming legal. While tolerated in CA (and done illegally in many other states,) AB 51 would make CA the first state to make lane splitting legal.
Safe At Any Speed?
Initially I was concerned. Still am in many ways. I’ve driven a car and ridden my Harley on the highways in and around LA, neither of which was a pleasant experience.
My chief concern is the ever present, and seemingly growing, excuse drivers offer when involved in a motorcycle-related accident – I didn’t see him/her.
This bill allows motorcyclists to ride no greater than 15 MPH faster than the speed of traffic. Let’s take a bumper-to-bumper scenario as an example. Traffic is moving at a crawl – 10 MPH. You are on your bike, riding at 25 MPH. That means you are traveling at 37.5 feet per second. Twenty-five yards in two seconds!
One-thousand and one, one-thousand and two.
That grey Honda Accord 10 yards ahead of you just decided the delivery truck in front of them is annoying, and the lane to their left is moving faster anyway.
10 yards. 30 feet. In less than ONE second you and the Accord will occupy the same space at the same time, defying a basic law of physics regarding two solid bodies. Granted, this could happen when you are riding in a lane of traffic. But in that case, you have just a tad bit more room to maneuver.
“Put The !#&* Cell Phone Down!
All of the above applies to drivers who act without thinking. Act without looking. Careless – yes. But not exactly distracted.
My second, equally serious concern – distracted drivers.
There are many, MANY times when I wish cell phones did not work while a vehicle is in motion. But I could write an entire blog post about distracted driving.
Obviously, CA has been living with these issues. As I write this, as you read this, motorcyclists are lane splitting in LA and elsewhere, AB 51 or not. Several law enforcement agencies joined the American Motorcycle Association and the Motorcycle Industry Council in support of AB 51. I suspect their statistics supporting their position reflects an acceptable level of risk for lane splitting; whatever “acceptable” may infer.
Whenever we ride, we assume the risks of enjoying our freedom, of following our passion. For years, here in Texas I chose to exercise my right to not wear a helmet. Like lane splitting motorcyclists, I chose to live with an acceptable level of risk.
But now I wear a helmet. Because, like all motorcyclists who choose NOT to lane split, some risks are simply not as acceptable for me personally.
Not everyone is free to choose between wearing a helmet or not. And the helmet law debate is one hot topic that will likely continue for years to come.
Helmets and lane splitting are all about how much risk you are willing to accept.
Which leads me to a question – why would a state that takes away a motorcyclist’s right to choose what is an acceptable risk by making helmets mandatory, enact a law giving motorcyclists the right to choose lane splitting?
This editorial is the personal opinion of the author, and does not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of J&P Cycles, MAG Retail Group or MAG Brands.