Study: Lane-splitting safer than normal riding

California, USA –

A recent study from the University of Berkeley, California, has shown that lane-splitting is in fact, a relatively safe procedure, even when compared to ‘normal’ riding.

Lane-splitting is the practise of riding a motorcycle between two lanes of traffic, usually composed of cars or trucks that are slow moving or stationary. Naturally, the most lane splitting occurs during peak hours or jams.

The key finding from the University’s Safe Transport Research & Education Centre (SafeTREC) was that “ lane-splitting is relatively safe if done in traffic moving at 50mph/80km/h or less, and if motorcyclists do not exceed the speed of other vehicles by more than 15mph/24km/h.”

It hinges on the fact that “compared with other motorcyclists involved in a collision, lane-splitting riders were less likely to suffer head injury (9 percent versus 17 percent), torso injury (19 percent versus 29 percent) and fatal injury (1.2 percent versus 3 percent).” They were also less likely to be rear-ended by other vehicles.

This is down to the fact that lane-splitting riders were more likely to be ‘pure commuters’, and as such, riding at a lower speed, riding on a weekday, being sober and less likely to be carrying passengers, compared to ‘leisure’ motorcyclists.

Almost 6,000 motorcycle accidents were part of the study, which occured from June 2012 to August 2013 in the state of California, and 997 of those incidents involved lane-splitting motorcycles. While lane-splitting has always been a way of life in Asia and Europe, where motorcycles are a much more common, low-cost form of transport, lane splitting is not legal in any states of the USA, California being a notable counter-example.

Thomas Rice, an epidemologist as SafeTREC, who was one of the authors of the study, said that the more surprising thing was that speed wasn’t as accurate a predictor of injury as compared to speed differential. In other words, it doesn’t matter how fast you’re going so much as how fast everyone else around you is going.

We have learned that when lane-splitting motorcycle riders are involved in collisions, the most common scenario is a rider traveling too fast when a motorist attempts to change lanes,” said Rice. “I think any efforts to encourage riders to lower their speed differentials will prevent collisions and injuries. One result of legislation or other guidelines might be a heightened awareness among motorists about motorcycle lane-splitting.”

How To Lane Split Properly

  • Watch your speed: Theoretically you can lane split at any speed, but try to keep your speed less than 20km/h more than surrounding traffic, and only lane split at speeds below 70km/h.
  • Don’t look down: Look up and towards where you want to go and the motorcycle will follow. It’s very hard to lane-split if you don’t look downwards.
  • Look up and out: You can usually predict when a car is about to change lane – for one, there needs to be enough space for it to move into. Watching the car’s front wheel can also give you more time to react.
  • Cover your brake: Use your fingers to cover the front brake and be ready to stop at any time while lane splitting.
  • Go at your own pace: If other riders are tailgating you, pull over and let them through then continue at your own pace. While you’re at it, be careful of riders hiding in your own blind spot.
  • Do it on the right: In traffic, heavy vehicles and trucks are likely to occupy the left lane, and it’s harder to lane split past them. Keep between the first and second lanes for the safest experience.

about the author

Derryn Wong
CarBuyer's chief editor has a keen interest in all things mechanical, technological, animal and mineral. He's particularly fascinated by eco-cars and cars which make no logical sense. An avid motorcyclist and photographer, he also enjoys cats.