As if L.A. traffic wasn’t stressful enough, the practice of “lane splitting”—allowing motorcyclists to zip between stopped or slow-moving cars on interstate highways—may soon be legal in California. A new bill, which heads to the California State Senate after passing with a 53 to 11 vote on Thursday, would legally permit motorcycles to travel between cars, as long as they don’t exceed speeds of 15 mph faster than the flow of traffic or 50 mph total. If the measure passes, California will be the first and only state to approve such legislation; to date, lane splitting laws in Washington, Oregon, Texas, Nevada and Tennessee have all been shot down, and most other states explicitly ban the much-hated practice.
Though Southern Californians are used to seeing Harleys, Ducatis, and Kawasakis narrowly miss their rearview mirrors during L.A.’s infamous traffic jams, many believe legalizing the traffic-evading tactic will make lane splitting more prevalent, and thus lead to more accidents. Compared to traditional motorists, bikers are already 26 times more likely to die per mile traveled, according to official 2012 statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the number of motorcycle deaths in United States—4,668 in 2013—is staggering.
Average citizens, fed up with constant reports of highway carnage from crushed motorcyclists (and the gridlock that ensues) have begun speaking out against what many perceive as an extremely dangerous trend; www.stoplanesplitting.com, a no-frills website founded by passionate anti-lane splitting advocate Thomas Freeman, has over 1,000 members.
Dennis Zine, a former Los Angeles City Council member who served 33 years with the L.A.P.D., argues that the new laws would be difficult to enforce if broken. “Unless the pursuing officer is on a motorcycle…a patrol car cannot possibly apprehend the vehicle that is splitting lanes. There is no law if there’s no law enforcement.”
Though perhaps unintentionally, Zine brings up a more serious question: if motorcyclists are permitted to weave through traffic, what prevents these individuals from destroying property (like shattering a rearview mirror) or committing other crimes, then making an escape through the gridlock using lane splitting tactics?
Even the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA), an organization that lobbies for the safety and equality of motorcyclists, dislikes the lane splitting measure, though for admittedly different reasons. “We don’t like this bill,” said Nicolas Haris, a representative. “It goes a long way in the right direction, but it falls short.”
If the new lane splitting law passes—and many believe that it will—Angelenos will have one more reason to stay off the already-sluggish freeways. If you fear for the safety of your rearview mirrors, Prestige Limo recommends you take advantage of stress-free private car services instead of tangling with maniacal motorcyclists.