More Riders Lane Spliting in California, More Safely

News -



The California Office of Traffic Safety has released the 2013 update to its 2012 lane sharing survey. The 2013 survey was again conducted by Ewald & Wasserman Research Consultants, using a similar methodology to the 2012 survey. The researchers surveyed a greater number of riders and drivers – 713 riders, compared to 560 in 2012, and 1,020 drivers, compared to 733 in 2012. Check out the first few pages of the survey below for the rest of the methodology – let’s get to the good stuff!

This article originally appeared on Lane Splitting is Legal and is reprinted here with permission. Follow LSiL for complete coverage of lane splitting issues.

The study shows a slight increase in riders splitting on freeways:

And more riders answered “How frequently do you lane-split on freeways?” with “always”:

The number of women riders surveyed was small – at just 45 – but the women surveyed in 2013 split lanes a lot more than the women surveyed in 2012:

There’s some good news about riders being hit or nearly hit, too. Fewer riders reported being hit by vehicle, although the number riders hitting other vehicles increased a bit. Bad! But the overall “never been hit” percentage is up.

Of the riders who hit or were hit by a vehicle, the precent of “just hit a car mirror” reports increased from 34.6% to 46.2% in 2013. “Scraped/hit side of car” also increased from 7.4% to 11.5%. See the full breakdown of types of collisions in the full survey PDF below.

Fortunately, close calls decreased in 2013:

There were some changes in lane splitting behavior on the freeway – more riders reported splitting in traffic up to 20 MPH and up to 40 MPH. The percentage of riders splitting in traffic up to 70 MPH more than doubled, increasing from 1.6% to 3.6%. Slow down, guys!

There were not a lot of changes in the answers to questions regarinding splitting on roads other than freeways. As with splitting on freeways, the number of close calls decreased – 76.7% of riders answered “Did you ever nearly hit a vehicle?” with no, compared to 70.3% in 2012.

In reported collissions, mirror hits off the freeway increased from 20% to 31.6% and a lot more riders were knocked down – 13.2% in 2013 versus 2.9% in 2012. However, the researches noted that even this seemingly large change was not statistically significant.

The survey contains extensive data on riders’ speed relative to surrounding traffic – see tables and notes starting on page 17. The researchers calculated average speed differential for road types as shown in the table below, and not surprisingly found that riders who split on freeways and roads tend to split more quickly.

One of the most common things riders complain about when talking about lane splitting is drivers not paying attention and not seeing motorcyclists. The most common complaint tallied up in this survey was “drivers not looking in mirror/drivers not seeing MCs” – reflective of this complain. The table below shows the breakdown of threats perceived by riders:

The researchers characterized the changes in the 2013 threat perception numbers as insignificant, saying “The small changes in the perception of most serious threat to motorcyclists between 2013 and 2012 are not significant.” One glaring issue here is that few riders perceive “big trucks” as a significant threat, while in reality the data shows these large vehicles as being positively murderous to lane splitters.

In summary – most of the changes in the rider data from 2012 to 2013 was characterized by researchers as not statistically significant.

Ok – so what about the drivers?

The question many riders have been asking is “Has all of the PR work the CHP and OTS have been doing made a difference in driver perception of lane splitting?”

My contact at OTS said “At the time of the survey (March/April 2013), there had been very little outreach to the public regarding the Lane Splitting General Guidelines, which had just been posted on CHP’s website on January 14, 2013, OTS’ website on January 30 and DMV’s website on March 8th. We hope to see more positive change when the survey is conducted again next Spring.”

The survey contains several tables detailing responses by number of days driven per week, age, and so on… but here’s the breakdown of how many drivers think it’s legal to split lanes on the freeway in California:

The researchers characterized these small changes as statistically insignificant. Check out the tables starting on page 22 for more information on perceived legality by drivers.

There was a bit of a reduction in the number of driver-reported lane splitting accidents, although the number of observations is small.

Additionally, drivers reported slightly lower near-hit incidents:

Researchers characterized this 6.3% drop as “slightly significant.”

Driver Approval and disapproval of lane splitting didn’t change much:

Table V23 on page 29 breaks down driver reasons for approval/disapproval. The most significant reason for disapproval is “it is unsafe” at 57.5% followed by things like “it startles me” and “it might cause me (or others) to have an accident.” Surprisingly, complaints that seem common when lane splitting is mentioned in the media, such as “they ride too fast” and “it’s unfair” don’t carry much weight here. The tables beginning on page 30 display comprehensive breakdowns of perception of legality, approval/disapproval and regional opinions.

Another big deal for riders is drivers blocking riders who are lane splitting. This is explicitly mentioned as illegal in the CHP lane splitting guidelines but unfortunately there is not a significant change in drivers blocking riders.

As for why this small percentage of drivers do this, the “it’s unfair!” complaint shows up, with 11.6% of blocking drivers giving this as the reason they block lane splitters. 14.5% of blockers say they engage in this aggressive, dangerous behavior because lane splitting is unsafe. That’s right – these drivers think they should block riders with their car because lane splitting is unsafe. Similarly, 17.4% of blocking drivers said they try to prevent riders from lane splitting because lane splitting may cause them to have an accident. Cue head explosions here.

In summary there isn’t a lot of good news here – it’s mostly neutral, with not a lot of statistically significant changes in the data. As mentioned above, the official PR engines of the CHP, OTS and DMV were just getting going as this survey was being conducted – hopefully we’ll see more positive results in the 2014 survey. In the meantime, riders should read the entire study and work to be good ambassadors for lane splitting and motorcycling in general. Please share this study with riders and drivers alike!

This article first appeared on Lane Splitting Is Legal and is reprinted here with permission. Follow LSiL to keep up to date on all lane splitting news.

  • Taco


    • sean macdonald

      at least you still felt the need to leave a comment, that’s what counts.

  • Davidabl2

    I think that Speed differential would be better considered as a percentage of traffic speed i.e. a 10 mph differential when traffic is going 15 mph is way bigger than if traffic is moving at 25

  • orangelion03

    I was interviewed for the 2012 survey. I ride to our home office several times a month, a trip of 100 miles that takes me from Ventura Co, through LA, and close to OCC. My usual route takes me through moderate traffic routes and those with HOV lanes, so my lane splitting is minimal, but sometimes I have to ride along heavy traffic routes that have no HOV lanes. My record is 30 miles of lane splitting and is more taxing physically and mentally than a 500 mile day.

    My personal thought on drivers being more aware of splitters: there are more drivers that own bikes and/or have friends and family that ride. I bet that every one of those drivers that see me coming and move over (they are paying attention!) are riders themselves. That’s what I do when I’m in my cage.

  • David Kent

    With the number of texting drivers I witness each day who can’t stay in their lane, seems like lane splitting is playing russian roulette with three loaded cylinders…

    • Wes Siler

      Take the time to learn how to it safely and I think you’ll begin to understand why it’s just a better idea than sitting in traffic like the proverbial duck.

      • David Kent

        Part of “learning how to do it safely” is honestly assessing the changing threat level and being willing to change your behavior to suit. Sometimes, a threat rises to a level that makes discretion the better part of valor. Same principle applied to my public safety job of 30 years. As traffic levels rose, high speed pursuits became more dangerous than the rewards of catching the bad guy, so we stopped doing them, and rightly so. Lane splitting by definition requires that you trust a stranger to be able to maintain his position within his lane. In my neck of the woods, you don’t need to ride far WITHOUT lane splitting to see that a large portion of those strangers would likely be better off with a sixpack under their belt than a touch screen in their hand. So in my view, the threat level is rising rapidly, and until we get it under control I’ll be waiting my turn in traffic. Quack Quack.

        • Campisi

          “I’ll be waiting my turn in traffic.”

          Please don’t do that. You’re not “cutting in line” or anything like that when you split lanes; you’re making the entire line one vehicle shorter, thereby making things go that little bit faster for everyone else. Even if you only split lanes when traffic is at an absolute dead stop, if you had the chance to make traffic even a tiny bit better for everyone involved, why wouldn’t you?

          • David Kent

            Because I have more of a responsibility to my wife and children to stay in one piece in order to provide for them than I do do society to make traffic one vehicle shorter.

            • Surj Gish

              David – the data suggests that lane splitting is more likely to keep you in one piece for your wife and children than waiting behind cars. Check out the LaneSplittingIsLegal resources page for more information on this. In particular, have a look at “Lane Sharing: A Global Solution for Motorcycle Safety” by Steve Guderian: “Motorcycle rear-end impact deaths as a percentage of all motorcycle deaths is quite a bit higher than the all-vehicle rear-end impact percentage in Florida (12.7% vs. 8.5%), Texas (10.8% vs. 7.5%), and the US (9.0% vs. 6.2%). In California, the percentages(8.5% vs. 7.3%) are closer, and they are lower than the comparison states.” The other studies on that page suggest similar things – it’s not just belief that splitting is safer, the data reflect this too.

          • Jenn Wohl

            But you are cutting in line. You are moving ahead 10-20 cars while I have to wait. I understand why motorcycles think that “because they fit, they should be allowed”, but I think it is dangerous and stupid.

  • David Kent

    Most of the reports you cite are less than 2 years old, but the data they source is a minimum of 3 years old, and in one case, from 1976. I believe that lane splitting in and of itself is a safe practice, but for me that’s not the issue. As I stated before, my personal, 40K/Miles/Year, bike as primary transport observation is that the incidence of electronically distracted drivers has risen shockingly in very recent history. And I don’t think that rise is reflected in 3 year old stats. Bottom line is that my personal experience has convinced me that the advantage is not worth the risk. As it is now, with me in one lane and a cage in the other, I have close encounters with drifters at least 3 times a week. I’m still shiny side up because I had somewhere to retreat to.
    I can’t see how handlebar to mirror distance, on both sides of me, in this current environment, will increase my survival chances or my riding experience.

  • Andrew Kinsler

    I was interviewed for this survey in SF. I spent the whole time since hoping that the CHP wouldn’t use the data as a reason to make lane splitting illegal.

    • Surj Gish

      The CHP supports lane splitting – see the CHP lane splitting guidelines.

      • Andrew Kinsler

        Right. However, when I asked what they planned to do with the data, or if it would be made public, the survey administrator had no idea. I had hoped that some state politicians wouldn’t look at this data and try to use it to outlaw lane sharing as an unsafe practice.

  • David Kent

    Thanks for the well worded and well thought out reply. I chuckled at the reference to eight track tapes, seems like I’m not able to conceal how ancient and technologically challenged I am these days, lol. You’re right, about me not being comfortable with it, and I doubt at this point that I ever will be. That said, I hope I didn’t come across as someone who would support banning it just because I don’t do it. I’m a staunch believer in those Libertarian principles that allow us all the freedom to make our own choices and rise or fall on the wisdom or consequences of those choices. BTW, I’ve only recently discovered RideApart. You guys are miles ahead of similar sites, with a constant flow of informative and entertaining content. Somebody there deserves a raise!

  • Zachary Church

    Thanks, guys!