What Do Helmets Have To Do With Lane Splitting?

//What Do Helmets Have To Do With Lane Splitting?

What Do Helmets Have To Do With Lane Splitting?

Motorcycle lane splitting in CA

Courtesy Mercury News


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.

Acceptable Risk

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.

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  1. Mark Weaver October 14, 2016 at 12:08 pm

    This video defends lane splitting better than I can: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNGD9AAIfFU

  2. Al September 2, 2016 at 11:43 am

    Lane splitting (or ‘filtering’ as it’s known in the UK, where it is legal) is like most driving/riding manoeuvres – a question of skill and experience, coupled with care and a strong sense of self preservation. The UK Police call it ‘linked overtaking’ (passing) and so the same care must be exercised (i.e. not much faster than the vehicle being overtaken and be ready to prepare for moving back into a lane, not stopping between lanes at any point). Compared to a car driver sitting in air-conditioned splendour with the windows up and radio on, you’ve got to think that s/he can hear ‘squat’ outside (“Loud Pipes Save Lives” and I can vouch for that!). Equally it should be a driver’s test/examination requirement to show regular and frequent mirror usage to be aware of what’s at the side of you, as well as behind. Sadly (and dangerously) most car test examiners have never ridden a motorbike. Drivers should be made aware that they are SHARING the road with other (potentially more vulnerable) users; it’s NOT their territory. Motorbike engines can easily overheat and perhaps malfunction in a static traffic line (sure, shut off the engine, but who knows how long the line will remain standing still?!). So drivers must understand that it is VERY unreasonable to force a motorbike rider to stay stationary behind cars in static traffic sitting over a very hot engine, in full leather riding gear, on a non-air-conditioned vehicle. Bike riders’ a/c IS ‘on’ ONLY when moving. Have some consideration folks! Thank you!

  3. Guy July 2, 2016 at 8:07 am

    Seems like this whole editorial can be summed up with “lane splitting seems scary because I’ve never done it”. But don’t you think most people would say the same thing about riding a motorcycle on the road if they haven’t before?

    Take this part
    “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.”
    and apply it to any traffic situation in a vehicle. Even in a full size car traveling through a town with a line of parked cars. What if a kid jumps out from behind one of the parked cars, or one suddenly pulls intro traffic? Imagine that, operating any machine at pretty much any speed over 5mph is inherently dangerous to some degree.

    You have no actual statistics or decisive reasoning why filtering is dangerous, this is just anti-motorcycle fear mongering.

    • Joe Peek July 5, 2016 at 11:17 am

      Thanks for the feedback. The post was not intended as a “fear mongering” piece, nor was I attempting to dissuade anyone from exercising their own PERSONAL decisions for lane splitting.

      The example you gave is a mathematical calculation of the distance traveled given a rate of speed. Granted, your example of a child jumping out between parked cars is a good example of the inherent risks any vehicle operator faces, but in the case of bumper to bumper traffic on a freeway, that risk is greatly magnified. Certainly in a town with a line of parked cars there is not a child behind each one of the cars.

      Lastly, this is not “anti-motorcycle” in any way. I am simply voicing concerns about the practice. And initiating a dialogue, such as this one. One need not have done lane splitting to be concerned about the increasing numbers of accidents involving distracted drivers, and wondering how that potentially affects the practice of lane splitting.

  4. Charles June 30, 2016 at 6:27 am

    There is a bit more to lane splitting than listed here. In stop and go rush hour traffic in large cities, cars rear end each other at an alarming rate. With everyone on their cell phones, it happens even more. But the percentage of people sideswiping each other is very low. So, taking that into consideration, you are safer between the sides of cars than between their bumpers. Now, other rules that need to be followed in order to survive. 10-15 mph above flow, if you are watching all the things you should be, that’s a good rate that allows for potential accident avoidance. Never pass a car with an empty spot beside it – the car tired of the slow truck analogy. Watch the drivers heads – if the head turns, they are looking for another path and … when the head turns, the shoulder turns, the arm pulls the wheel, the car swerves a bit. Take the path of least resistance, don’t try to ‘squeeze by’. Little things you should know before doing this. Lots of South CA miles doing this.
    Now helmets, let’s just say in the 200k + miles I’ve ridden in 40 years, I’ve been down 3-4 times, every time the helmet has saved my life (these are low speed, the most common MC collision/crash). I won’t ride without one, nor will I ride with people who don’t wear one (not enough brains to protect, don’t really want that judgement causing me to scoop their brains up off the road if they go down, or having to tell their families) Just MHO

    • Joe Peek July 1, 2016 at 3:40 pm

      Al fantastic points Charles! Thanks for sharing this with us!

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