The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (“MSF”) defines lane splitting as utilizing the space between traffic lanes “to position [a rider] for maximum visibility to other motorists while maintaining safety and control of the traffic situation.” The common rider rationale for this behavior lies in the thought that it is safer to “filter” the motorcycle to the front of the line, rather than be stuck at the back risking a rear-end collision. Often called lane filtering or “white-lining,” this practice is common in other parts of the world, and a few areas of the United States, most notably California. A majority of states have outright banned the practice, though. At this time, although New Jersey state law is silent as to the legality of lane splitting, an officer can still issue a citation for numerous traffic offenses, such as failing to stay to the left while engaging a pass. Many states, New Jersey included, have seen legislation proposed that would legalize the practice, but no such bill has ever been codified into law.
The debate over the safety of lane splitting is contentious, with drivers of cars often angered by the practice. In 2015, UC Berkeley’s Safe Transportation Research and Education conducted the most in-depth analysis of lane splitting to date. Their largest finding was that lane splitting is a largely safe practice if practiced under fifty miles an hour. Further, the data suggested that in states where such practices are normalized, other motorists tend to have a heightened awareness about motorcycles, and will more frequently seek to observe if any are present in the roadway. However, that is not to say that the legalization of legal splitting would mean safer commuting. Nearly 1 out of every 6 accidents reported to the California Highway Patrol for the years 2012 and 2013 did involve some form of lane splitting. Obviously, no rider wants to be involved in an accident, but as explained further below, the common belief that lane splitting reduces a rider’s likelihood of suffering serious injury appears to be supported by data.
An admitted issue with the data utilized in the UC Berkeley study concerns their inability to estimate the risk of getting into a collision in the first place. By contrast, the data collected concerned reported accidents, and further analyzed whether particular injury types were more common in lane splitting incidents. The data was clear that unlike traditional collisions, riders involved in accidents while lane splitting were considerably less likely to suffer injuries to their head or torso. The consistent message and conclusion of the study is that speed differential between the motorcycle and other vehicles impacts the risk of injury more than anything else. By filtering at a speed within 15 miles per hour of the surrounding vehicles, the rider lowers their chances of suffering significant injuries.
If you do find yourself injured in an accident, whether lane filtering is involved or otherwise, please do not hesitate to contact the experts at Laddey, Clark & Ryan to help determine whether you are entitled to compensation.