Editorials

A reasonable bill on lane-splitting stresses safety

California would officially legalize lane-splitting, but would put restrictions on motorcyclists under a bill that has passed the state Assembly.
California would officially legalize lane-splitting, but would put restrictions on motorcyclists under a bill that has passed the state Assembly. Los Angeles Times

Just maybe, California may finally get sensible safety rules on lane-splitting, the highway maneuver – banned in every other state – that motorists hate but motorcyclists defend to the death. After far too many detours, it’s about time, and it will make our roads safer for everyone.

The state Assembly has approved a bill that would officially authorize cyclists to scoot in between lanes of traffic. But they could only go 15 miles per hour faster than the cars they’re passing, and they couldn’t go more than 50 mph.

These reasonable restrictions should help avoid the deadliest crashes – and bring common sense to an ugly shouting match. Assemblyman Bill Quirk, a Hayward Democrat, and his co-authors deserve credit for seeking a compromise, and for basing their legislation on facts rather than emotion.

A first-of-its-kind UC Berkeley study – released last year and commissioned by the California Highway Patrol and state Office of Traffic Safety – found that injuries from lane-splitting collisions are significantly reduced when the speed differential between cars and cycles is less than 10 mph and when motorcycles stay under the speed limit.

Quirk told The Sacramento Bee’s Tony Bizjak that Assembly Bill 51 is intended to stop the most extreme and dangerous lane-splitting, while still allowing motorcyclists to avoid getting hit and overheating in heavy traffic.

That ought to be a goal everyone can get behind.

The legislation is needed because the Highway Patrol backed off its 2013 voluntary guidelines, advising cyclists not to go more than 10 mph faster than other traffic and not to lane-split when traffic is moving faster than 30 mph. After complaints that the guidelines had not gone through proper rule-making, the CHP tossed them. This bill is less restrictive than the CHP guidelines; motorcyclists ought to be able to live with it.

As this measure gets closer to the finish line, the state Senate is likely to hear from the absolutists – those motorists who want an outright ban and those motorcyclists who believe that any restrictions somehow violate their freedoms.

Senators should stay in the middle of the road and pass this bill.

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