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Motorcycle lane-splitting inches closer to becoming law

Los Angeles motorcyclist Susanna Schick, who took columnist Robin Abcarian on a ride-along, discusses lane-splitting from a rider’s perspective.

A California bill that would define and facilitate regulations for motorcycle lane-splitting has moved one step closer to becoming law.

Rep. Bill Quirk’s (D-Hayward) Assembly Bill 51 received unanimous support in the California Senate on Monday and after amendments passed out of that body on Thursday with a 74-0 “yes” vote, Quirk’s office said.

AB 51 now moves to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature.

If passed, the law would make California the first U.S. state to allow the controversial practice, in which motorcyclists use the spaces between lanes to avoid being stuck in heavy traffic.

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To date, the practice — common in many European countries but expressly against the law in other U.S. states — is not technically legal in California but is tolerated as legal by law enforcement agencies.

I wish they’d lock these guys up and throw away the key.
Simi Valley resident John Wade, who opposes lane-splitting

The current legislation would allow the California Highway Patrol to establish guidelines for safe lane-splitting.

For many years, the CHP posted such safety guidelines on its websites, as did the Department of Motor Vehicles.

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Studies have shown that motorcyclists in heavy traffic are safer when lane-splitting than when they’re not — in part because lane-splitting eliminates the risk of being rear-ended by an inattentive driver. Studies have also shown that motorcyclists who lane-split regularly are more likely to be safer riders, properly licensed and fitted with safety gear, and less likely to ride while impaired by drugs or alcohol.

The Senate vote was greeted with enthusiasm by members of the motorcycle community.

“I ride every day, and lane-splitting is an enormous time saver,” said enthusiast and motorcycle industry professional Kevin Allen. “Lane-splitting is a practice that should be legalized formally in California and eventually every state in the U.S., especially if we continue to raise awareness about motorcycling with this new law.”

Opponents, meanwhile, were dismayed.  

John Wade, who works in film distribution and commutes to Universal City from Simi Valley on the 5 and 170 freeways, hopes lane-splitting will not become law and feels the practice  should be illegal. He thinks it’s unsafe for riders and the cars they might run into. 

“But if the Highway Patrol doesn’t enforce it, what difference does it make?” Wade asked. “I wish they’d lock these guys up and throw away the key.”

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