Lane splitting and motorcycle deaths in AZ

Dailies -


Phoenix_Dump_Truck_Crash.jpgPhoto: ABC15

I just wrote an editorial for Jalopnik (my day job) explaining how the lives of the four motorcyclists killed by a reckless dump truck driver in Arizona could have been saved had the riders been able to take advantage of legal lane splitting. A bill permitting a trial run of lane splitting in Maricopa County is currently up for consideration by the state senate. Head on over to read it and leave a comment, we’re outnumbered by dozy drivers over there.


  • tedder

    Jalopnik link goes to ABC15, Wes.

    • Wes Siler

      Oops, fixed now, thanks.

    • Tony Claow.

      Show me the proof……………….

      Lane splitting does not and can not guarantee these bikers would have been spared this accident or any other. I am curious if anyone has hard evidence or statistics to back up any claim regarding this issue. The “loud pipes” debate comes to mind. After 50 years of debate there is still no hard evidence. This lane split debate is harder yet as one puts himself in extreme danger with very little room to maneuver and very little time to react.
      I am not taking a negative stand on the issue, I simply do not see an argument for either side with logic or statistics to back it up.
      I do appreciate the guy who without a long winded justification just says: Phuck it, I just do it, to hot, to long, to many cars, I got to go.

      • Wes Siler

        You obviously didn’t read my editorial at Jalopnik, I clearly cite two statistical sources for lane splitting decreasing accidents; the Hurt Report and the Department of Transportation.

        • In Line

          That report was from 1981. Siting it against an incident that just happened is a stretch.

          I think that your report of the accident and the correlation to lane splitting is way off base. This is an isolated accident. Lane splitting does not save lives or create more danger.

          Lets face it. People in cars hate when bikes rush by while they are stuck behind Jose the slow driver. The frustration turns to hate of all motorcyclists and so laws are made against it. The only benefit to splitting lanes are on the surface…IT IS MORE FUN!! “F U CAGERS; LET ME GO BY!”

        • Tony Claow.

          I was thinking about something just a bit more recent, times, drivers, vehicles, bikes and attitudes have changed drastically in 20 years.
          Did I mention attitudes?

          • LuxuryVTwin

            It also does not state any statistics whatsoever and fails to comment on the amount of accidents or deaths caused by lane splitting.
            Furthermore this accident was not in deep deep traffic where splitting is generally warranted. They were 3 deep at a light, something that happens minute by minute, every day, all day.

            • Wes Siler

              As stated above, there’s two specific sources of statistics cited. You can hardly call the Hurt Report old, it’s the only substantial motorcycle safety report ever conducted in this country. The other is bang up to date, the DOT’s fatality analysis reporting system records causations of accidents and shows rear enders, such as the accident in question, are 30% less likely in a state where lane sharing is legal as opposed to states with similar demographics and riding seasons.

              As for being 3 deep at a red light, that’s exactly the kind of situation where lane splitting is appropriate and where it can increase safety. Rather than sitting in front of speeding traffic, hoping they stop, you can put yourself beyond a crumple zone of stationary cars ensuring that any errant dump trucks hit them instead of you. In this case, had the riders been cushioned by three to four parked cars, the forces they would have experienced in the crash would have been far less as would the risk of being trapped under a flaming truck.

              Motorcycle safety isn’t simply a case of hoping for the best, it’s a case of doing every single thing possible to ensure your survival. Lane splitting can be one of the more powerful tools available to riders.

  • Peter
  • ben

    What a sad and horrible incident.

  • Greg

    I’m glad to see another state is looking into allowing lane splitting by motorcyclists. It’s one of the huge benefits of riding a two-wheeled machine. However, I would like to point out an inaccuracy in the article. It was stated that lane splitting was “recently made legal in California.” The truth is, California has never had a law prohibiting such riding. Unsafe lane splitting would be handled under California’s Basic Speed Law (22350 VC) – Unsafe Speed for Conditions and is a subjective call made by highway patrol officers or other law enforcement officials.

    In any event, I hope other states will soon follow suit…

  • generic1776

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention this article about the demonstration in France about potentially removing the lane sharing regulation:

  • Sasha Pave

    Holy crap that’s a grizzly accident! RIP to those who died and speedy healing to the survivors. Fucking truck driver should be shot.

    If you read through some of the comments on this Phoenix Newspaper article, it’s not surprising that the bill is stalled:

  • Tomas

    “Unsafe lane splitting would be handled under California’s Basic Speed Law (22350 VC) – Unsafe Speed for Conditions and is a subjective call made by highway patrol officers or other law enforcement officials”

    Same as in Spain, and I think most of the EU. Although it is common use in the streets it is not legal and thus, you could be fined/stopped if the officer is having a bad day. On the other hand, in my daily commute, I see motorist riding through traffic, dodging cars at incredibly high speeds, absurdily crazy speeds for that kind of riding. So i think that it is not legislated in part because of the difficult process of legally defining the concept of “slow speed”

    Greetings from Spain!!!!

  • brett vegas

    I don’t think I am more nervous in traffic than when I’m at a stoplight with a car in front of me and nobody behind. Something about getting mashed to pulp between a rock and a hard place. Alot of time I will put myself way off to one side of the lane or the other, at least then the texting driver might miss me, or I might be able to goose it for the gap(even if that isn’t that likely).
    In Taiwan they pack every open space between cars with scooters, the stoplights looks like ants swarming beetles. Oregon does not allow lane splitting either. Hell, I’d be OK with ONLY being able to split when traffic is dead stopped, anything to keep from getting rear-ended.

    Grisly accident, terrible way to go…

  • Texting is the modern scourge

    I was taught to leave the bike in gear, watch the mirror, and be prepared to jump the curb if someone comes barreling up behind you looking like they’re not going to stop.

    I wonder how much longer we’re going to tolerate text messaging while driving? I heard a statistic they’re 20 times more dangerous than drunk drivers. Should result in arrest and suspension of license.

  • LADucSP

    That’s true, but only if you’re alone or with one other rider, which is about the space you have to split the lanes up to the front of the line to get yourself somewhat out of harm’s way for something like this.

    It’s my biggest fear on a bike, especially because you are totally invisible stopped behind a car at a light. I would do it, even if it wasn’t legal here (only thing CA did right).

    But, a group of Harleys, which is often 10 bikes + large, will always want/have to sit together in formation at lights and such. So, this would have happened to them anyway, regardless of whether lane-splitting is legal or not.

    Besides, these are legal vehicles obeying the traffic laws.

    We need to understand that this was the driver’s fault. Totally.

    Would it have made a difference if it was 4 lives lost in one Honda Civic, for example, that the truck had run over?

    The guy killed 4 people. That’s the tragedy, and he is at fault, just like any of us would be.

    • Wes Siler

      I dunno, when I’m riding I’m not really worried about who’s fault something may be, I’m worried about saving my own ass. I take the mindset that no matter what happens, any accident is my fault. Hit by a car turning left? I should have slowed down, honked my horn, done anything to avoid it. Rear ended? I shouldn’t have put myself in a vulnerable position. Someone runs a redlight? I’m paranoid about checking both ways before I cross an intersection. Call me crazy, but I’m still here to debate this with you.

      No one’s saying the dump truck driver’s not to blame, but legal lane splitting could have enabled the riders in question to make more effective decisions about their own safety.

  • Darek

    I’d rather be wrong and alive than right and dead. May have been the driver’s fault, but I’d still like to take all the precautions I can to prevent that from happening. And in the current state, I’d be breaking the law. One guy I met at a track day got was facing a misdemeanor for splitting 5mph traffic jam caused by an accident.

  • lux

    Very good article and unfortunatly I see many of the Common Narrow Minded Uneducated replies to it. The Whole “I dont think I would split lanes so it shouldn’t be legal” garbage. You want to sit like a Duck than Fine, dont force everyone else to do so as well.

    I moved to LA 18 years ago and Only started riding 5 years ago, The few times I have left the state and riden (NV, TX) where you aren’t Allowed to filter traffic I found little to no pleasure riding a Motorcycle. It was fine while riding back country roads etc… But to Use a Bike as a Vehicle and Sit in the HEAT and completely Exposed while waiting at a Light behind other vehicles? No, If I couldn’t filter lanes I would not be on a bike.

  • In Line

    It is legal to share the lane with other motorists as long as you do it in a “safe” way in CA. Cops call. There is no law specifically talking about “lane splitting”

    Lane splitting at 100mph on the 5 freeway in OC is an everyday thing for us. Yet I still see harley pussies waiting behind garbage trucks at stop lights. Grow some nuts and get to the front of the line.

    If splitting lanes would have saved the lives of these riders then they probably should have done it. I would take a trip downtown over that outcome any day.

  • the expat

    This post made me laugh, since I reside in Australia and till lately, didn’t own a vehicle either. My housemates were all within the exact same boat, but we had been all too proud to buy a trolley since in our suburban location its regarded funny. But in the inner-city Melbourne suburbs they are all the rage! Anyway, as somene that has been in your scenario, I understand!

  • Casie Caseres

    This made me smile and hopefully after your last post it will do the same for you:

    There are three kinds of lies: Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics. :)