Photo by Steven Vance
As a guy who began riding in the friendly confines of New York City, I was always envious — okay, downright jealous — of my friends and colleagues in California who could split lanes. It made perfect sense: LA's copious freeways with their ample lanes (comparative to NYC's narrow tracks) seemed ideal for zipping through the rush hour crush. And I saw some crazy moves on visits to Europe. If those madmen could survive cutting between insane traffic, why oh why couldn't I?
Of course, 99% of motorcyclists the world over support the notion. Even the California Highway Patrol recently released a set of guidelines on lane-splitting's proper implementation; lobbyist groups such as LaneSplittingIsLegal.com are trying to get the practice legalized nationwide; and even the AMA, while neglecting to technically endorse it, is sticking to its tried-and-true "personal freedom" company line.
But, since moving to California last year and becoming one of the lane-splitting hoi polloi, a very jarring and very real fact has made itself as plain as day: I'm a one-percenter. I don't like to split lanes.
1. It's Illegal
Recently, Hunger Games star Josh Hutcherson was on The Late Show, telling David Letterman all about his Sportster and how he rides "everywhere" in LA. Dave brought up lane-splitting, to which the kid made a smooth retort. He then added, in all seriousness: "It's only legal in, like, three states in the US." The conversation then moved on to other, more important things (mainly Jennifer Lawrence).
Here's the deal, Josh: Unless you're riding in the state of California, lane-splitting is prohibited in the United States. End of story.
A bigger problem? As recently as 2012 about 53% of automobile drivers in the Golden State — where lane splitting is expressly legal — didn't even know lane-splitting was an acceptable practice in the eyes of the law. Fifty-three percent! Are you willing to put your life in the hands of about half the drivers on the 5 freeway? I'm not.
2. It's Dangerous
Lane-splitting takes what is already a dangerous practice and cranks the risk factor up to 11. Oh sure, your adrenal glands start pumping out the Good Stuff — but for all the wrong reasons. There are just too many variables out there. Even in traffic, the threats to your life — in that space, at that speed, on your vehicle - are too many to count. And most of them have nothing at all to do with you.
As I said above, I don't usually split lanes. Oh, I do it! But I don't like it. And only when traffic is moving really slow. I will never understand the logic of splitting cars that are already doing 70 miles per hour. Fact is, there is no logic to it. Go down at that speed and you're staying down — ATTGATT or not.