Legislators Hold Hearing on Motorcycle Lane-Splitting Bill

Posted on behalf of RizkLaw on Mar 01, 2019 in Auto Accident

motorcycle on highway during dayMotorcycle lane-splitting occurs when a motorcyclist travels between two traffic lanes, and the vehicles in those lanes, typically in heavy traffic. This practice is currently illegal in Oregon, but a new bill proposes to overturn the prohibition on lane-splitting. The bill was discussed in a public hearing held by the Joint Committee on Transportation.

A similar bill was proposed in 2015 and it passed the Senate in a legislative session, before it stalled in a legislative session of a House Committee. Another version of this bill was put forward in 2017 but died in a Senate committee. The difference with the new bill is that it has sponsorship from 19 lawmakers, while the 2015 and 2017 bills were only sponsored by six.

What the Bill Says

The new bill proposes the same rules as the 2015 bill and would allow motorcycle lane-splitting when traffic is moving at 10 miles per hour (mph) or less or is stopped and the motorcycle or moped operator:

  • Travels no more than 10 mph above the speed of traffic
  • Operates in a prudent manner so as not to obstruct the normal, reasonable movement of traffic
  • Passes a vehicle that is moving in the same direction
  • Moves back into the regular traffic flow when traffic starts to move faster than 10 mph
  • Is on a highway or freeway with a speed limit of at least 50 mph

However, this change to current law would not apply if you are in a school zone with a flashing light used to control traffic or between the hours of seven a.m. and five p.m. on a day when school is in session. The other exception is for crosswalks with flashing lights when children are present.

Why the Bill is Being Supported?

Supporters of the bill say lawmakers from both parties think lane-splitting can be safe for motorcyclists and help to reduce traffic congestion. A former member of the governor’s advisory committee on motorcycle safety gave testimony supporting the bill, saying it could have a positive effect on motorcycle safety.

Allowing riders to move between lanes to avoid sitting in stop-and-go traffic can help them from becoming exhausted from having to move forward a little and then stop.

Representative Carl Wilson stated that it can be very physically demanding for a motorcyclist to be stuck in traffic. The body must be engaged constantly, gripping the bike’s clutch. This creates fatigue, putting motorcyclists at risk of exhausting their arms trying to remain in the flow of traffic and use the clutch, which could put them in danger of an accident.

However, the bill faces strong opposition from various groups. The Oregon and Portland transportation departments say it will be difficult to enforce the restrictions on lane-splitting, which could result in riders speeding between lanes. Cars or trucks could switch lanes and crash into motorcyclists.

Portland Bureau of Transportation spokesman Dylan Rivera said there are significant concerns about riders lane-splitting on city streets, which the bill prohibits. There is also no public education element to the bill, which adds increased safety concern for all Oregon motorists.

Rivera noted the statistics showing an increase in motorcycle accidents in the past few years in Oregon:

  • 77 riders were killed in accidents in 2018, just 54 died from accidents in 2017
  • 25 percent of the deaths from traffic accidents were motorcyclists
  • 3,081 motorcycle accidents between 2015 and 2017
  • 168 deaths and 2,610 injuries between 2015 and 2017

Oregon Department of Transportation safety administrator Troy Costales cited those statistics at the public hearing. He also noted that drivers will not be used to motorcycles traveling between lanes. Other vehicles look to these areas for safety in a crisis.

Costales said 16 percent of the motorcycle accident injuries that occurred between 2015 and 2017 involved rear-end crashes. The majority of these crashes involved a rider hitting a car.

UC Berkeley Study on Lane-Splitting

In 2015, a University of California, Berkeley study showed that motorcycle lane-splitting was relatively safe under certain conditions. Currently, California is the only state where motorcycle lane-splitting is legal, though other states are considering laws that would legalize the practice.

The UC Berkeley study found that motorcycle lane-splitting can be a safe practice if a motorcyclist’s speed does not exceed that of surrounding traffic by more than 15 mph. The practice reduces traffic congestion when performed safely.

The study determined motorcycle lane-splitting was a safe practice in traffic moving at speeds of 50 mph or less. The speed of traffic was not the top predictor of injury – the difference between a motorcyclist’s speed and the speed of surrounding traffic was the biggest risk factor associated with lane-splitting. Injury risk greatly increases when the difference in speed between motorcycles and other vehicles is over 15 mph when lane-splitting.

Motorcyclists who participate in lane-splitting in California are more likely to operate their motorcycles on weekdays, during commuting hours. These riders use improved helmets and are more likely to ride at lower speeds. They are less likely to be transporting passengers or be under the influence of alcohol before riding.

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