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Mailbag: Legalizing Lanesharing in Florida

By James - 3/30/2007

Roy wrote in

I recently relocated to the Tampa area from SoCal and am wondering if there are any groups around here that are working to have lane sharing legalized? I would even be willing to make helmets mandatory if we could lane share. I would like to become involved with any groups that are trying to make it legal to laneshare. Thanks

I feel you Roy. I was in Arizona last October stuck in traffic in Laughlin. Temperature was in the 90s and no wind. It took us 40 minutes to go 3 miles on that asphalt oven. My wife was sweeping and afraid we were going to get tickets so we just sat in traffic. Luckily it was all downhill to the river so we cut the engines and coasted into town. If we were splitting, it would have taken us 10 minutes. I really miss it when I am out of state.

Here in California we have a powerful proponent of lane sharing in the Highway Patrol. When the lane sharing law was up for debate in the state senate, the Highway Patrol lobbied to leave it alone and that goes a long way when it comes from “Ponch and John” instead of the stereotypical outlaw biker.

Unfortunately this is not one of the AMA’s priorities so their poilitical muscle won’t really help you here. I think your best bet is to contact LaneShare.org and start a grassroots movement within your state. Find out what law enforcement has to say, as well as the opinion of state government and the voting population.

Good luck and if you need some statistics that show it can be an effective traffic solution as well as be safer than sitting in traffic read Is sharing lanes more or less dangerous than sitting in traffic?


When Splitting Lanes you gotta know who your friends are

By James - 3/24/2007

I have been splitting lanes now for more than 7 years now. Every day to and from work and on the weekends too. During that time I have learned some good lessons, most of which are written down in Tips for Splitting Lanes. But there are a few tips I left out. Mainly because they are overly broad, differ from person to person, and are frankly mean spirited. Since the article section of the website is meant for educational purposes, I stuck to the facts. The blog has more of an op-ed feel. So here I will spew my hate . . .

I don’t like broad generalizations. Judging a whole group of people based on the actions of a large minority of those people is dumb and closed minded. But after 7 years of splitting lanes I am seeing a pattern and it is letting me be proactive in my lane position, speed, and following distance. I hope you can learn from my observations.

Trucks are your friends
I don’t know why. By all accounts they should be hard to pass when splitting lanes. The are big vehicles with big mirrors right at decapitation level. But they seem to be more aware and more motorcycle friendly than the general cager. A lot of my motorcycle buddies have trucks, maybe this is them driving to work. They seem to move over for you and give you following room much more than I am used to. I would like to give a big two finger “what’s up” to all the trucks that are paying attention.

German cars are your enemies
Not so much with the higher end German cars, I am talking about the entry and mid level BMWs, Mercedes, just about all Audis and if you exclude their vans, Volkswagen. I have seen them signal so I know the cars come with that functionality, but why are they so reluctant to use their turn signals? Without fail, when a stretch of road opens up in front of me and I get up to speed, a Jetta decides they want to be in that faster lane and without looking or signaling, cuts me off. With all that protection they might feel invincible. With my loud pipes and high beam, I might as well be invisible.

Minivans, everybody’s favorite scapegoat
I don’t blame minivan drivers. Most are moms and we all know they have the hardest job in the world. And nowadays they have to drive further to do it. But what really gets me is when they have a “Baby on board” sign but insist in driving dangerously and endangering everybody else on the road.

I love to take the bus
They are big and hard to pass but you know that up front. They don’t lure you to pass then try to kill you. They are nice and predictable. They signal, they maintain their lane positioning and they see you coming. I want to say thanks to the bus drivers.

This might just be a California thing so let me know what patterns you have noticed in your area.


I object to lane splitting because . . .

By James - 3/1/2007

I had the pleasure to hear straight from a cager why some have a problem with lane splitting. Warning: It is quite irrational and does not make much sense when you know the facts.

(I object to lane splitting because) it puts me at risk of an accident or it puts my car at risk of being damaged and the motorcyclist may drive on or blame me. Someone else does not have the right to put me in such danger or circumstance anymore than I have the right to make you stand on the edge of a buildings roof. - GWMobile

In most instances, actually an overwhelming amount, 75%-85% of motorcycle collisions with cars are caused by automobile drivers. (Hurt Report, Tony Merlino) The main cause of motorcycle accidents is inconspicuousness. (Eye catching gear may reduce motorcycle injuries) Cars just do not see motorcyclists.

Is this the motorcyclists’ fault? As a motorcyclist I see inattentive and careless drivers every day. Most drivers don’t look for motorcyclists when they are turning. They also do not look for pedestrians or bicyclists when turning right. It is not on the top of mind of most cagers. They are thinking about work, they are thinking about traffic, they are concentrating on things other than driving. Motorcycles do not put cars at risk. Inattentive driving puts you at risk. There are two easy things you can do to make sure you do not have a motorcycle crash into you while splitting lanes; use your turn signal and look in your mirror. This will prevent 100% of accidents. It is not that hard, I drive a car and am not startled by motorcycles. Motorcycles are not hard to see. They have bright headlights that are always on. Many have bright paint jobs. Many have loud pipes. Many bikers wear bright clothing. There is no excuse for not seeing a motorcycle, it is carelessness on your own part that put you in that situation. You are the one putting others at risk.

(I object to lane splitting because) it is a result of someone who feels they can jump the line. Impatience, rudeness, superiority, uncivilized behavior, flauting(sic) the law, being an $#%hole call it what you will but lane splitting is all about the motorcyclists putting his desires ahead of others. - GWMobile

Here is the real motivation of those who wish to eliminate lane sharing; jealousy. Sure it seems like you are “cutting in line” and acting uncivilly, but in reality, that line is shorter because I am on a motorcycle. I have not bought into the idea that bigger is better which imposes on everyone round you. I am not hogging a ridiculously large space on the highway and using more resources than I need to. It seems like the refusal to use your turn signal and look before you turn is a lot more rude and arrogant than me using a piece of highway you can’t.

For more info on splitting lanes:
Lane Splitting Articles


Is sharing lanes more or less dangerous than sitting in traffic?

By James - 2/27/2007

Meet my newest best friend, FARS. FARS stands for Fatality Analysis Reporting System. It is a great web based application that aggregates fatal accident reports and lets you search , slice, and query all of their information. I use it when I smell B.S. from a person reiterating rhetoric and anecdotes as fact. I found it useful to enlighten a cager today on the topic of lane sharing.

Frankly I see motorcycles lane split in L.A all the time. They are not lane sharing They are lane splitting. It is unfortunately a burden on others and a hazard. It also raises insurance rates and lawsuits as riders who take a dangerous lane split inevitably sue the poor auto driver who doesn’t see them passing from behind with two inches to spare and unknowingly close the gap and are involved in an accident. Sorry but I am for a separate lane but lane sharing is ridiculous and dangerous.
- GWMobile

I am not sure that I would consider a cager “poor” if they change lanes without signaling for 100 feet or looking in their mirror. What about the “poor” motorcyclists that are killed or injured because people change lanes without proper caution? But lets make this about the numbers, not conjecture.

The Hurt Report contended that motorcyclists were safer sharing lanes than sitting at the end of a backup waiting for a car to rear end them. I wanted to look at the data and see if this hypothesis holds true. Here are some facts to chew on:

I could only get a complete set for 2005 from FARS so all data is from that year.

Percentage of fatalities resulting from a vehicle rear ending a motorcycle in:
Alabama: 11.9%
Arizona: 8.6%
California: 5.4%
Florida: 7.6%
Georgia: 0*
Louisiana: 5.7%*
Mississippi: 19.2%*
South Carolina: 10.2%
Texas: 9.7%

* Small data pool, results may be skewed.
States selected have a similar riding season.

If you look at just the largest states and only accidents that happened on the highway:

California: 6.0 rear-end fatalities/billion miles ridden on the highway
Florida: 9.0 rear-end fatalities/billion miles ridden on the highway
Texas: 9.4 rear-end fatalities/billion miles ridden on the highway

Is this because California drivers are especially careful? Or maybe they are more aware of the vehicles around them. Maybe Florida and Texas are much more congested. Percentage of fatalities resulting from a vehicle rear ending a passenger car:

California: 11.0%
Florida: 9.7%
Texas: 11.6%

So Californians are rear-ending cars and killing people at a similar rate as other states, but are not rear-ending motorcycles at as much as other states. This leaves me to ask, are there other factors influencing this trend? Are motorcyclists in the Golden state more visible than other states? Are the roads somehow safer for motorcyclists? Or is our unique ability to share lanes and not wait to be sandwiched by an inattentive driver helping us survive better than our out-of-state brethren? Here are the total fatality rates for these three largest states for multi-vehicle front-impact accidents of motorcycles:

California: 49.4 fatalities/billion miles ridden
Florida: 48.7 fatalities/billion miles ridden
Texas: 51.5 fatalities/billion miles ridden

So it looks like Californian bikers are fatally crashing into vehicles in front of them at the same rate as other states, but are not being rear-ended at the same rate. This leads me to believe that sharing lanes has a positive impact on preventing rear-end motorcycle fatalities, and a negligible effect on total fatalities. Insurance rates should be lower in California, not higher, although 3 fatalities for one billion miles seems like a small amount when spread over the large populations of insured drivers. Another conclusion from the Hurt Report was that less than 10% of riders did not have liability or health insurance, far below the national average of 30% for auto drivers. Let me know if there are alternatives to this conclusion, I can’t think of any.

For more info on splitting lanes:
Lane Splitting Articles


Splitting Lanes Past Dogs

By James - 2/25/2007

Traffic is stop and go. You are splitting lanes. As you squeeze past a bus, you see it. Ears flapping in the wind, eyes closed and nose up, enjoying the new smells of this stretch of road. It is a dog making the most of the car ride.

I am always uneasy when I encounter this scenario. I love dogs, but I know that one day, I will split past a dog with serious road rage. This week I encountered that dog.

Dog out the windowIn more than 7 years I have passed scores of dogs with their heads out the window. Some in the back of pickups, some with their heads out the back window of a Blazer or Forerunner. Almost all have had a curious interest in this bubble-headed human rolling on a noisy machine. Just about all I could have reached out and petted as I passed. So you can see, when envisioning the worst-tempered Kujo junkyard dog, why I might be apprehensive about passing certain breeds of unrestrained dogs.

I pass a lot of dogs in the back cargo area of Subabrus and Volvos. I have had these dogs bark at me, even though the windows are not open and I think that is part of the problem. Dogs can get “barrier frustration” and when a unexpected and unknown entity gets too close their instinct is to defend their territory. With the windows that muffle the sound and keep the dog from lunging at me, I don’t get startled by these instances.

Dog out the windowThe other reason dogs scare me while I am splitting is that there is no way to get away from them. You just have to blast past them minimizing your exposure. It kind of reminds me of Ulysses’ encounter with Charybdis on one side and rocks on the other. That is why I will be naming this mean-spirited dog Charybdis. I was traveling back from work on the Bay Bridge approach in San Francisco and spotted the dog about 7 cars ahead. As I approached the dog was eyeballing me intensely. This is your first clue. It was more than curiosity and I got a feeling that I should exercise greater care. It was a retriever mix, which usually have low aggression, but this one opened up once I was right next to it. It did not lunge or try to bite but it gave one of those “go away” barks that is really three short barks crammed into one loud “wofwofwof". The kind of bark that would go on longer but the dog runs out of breath. Slober was projected out and onto my visor.

Although I expected that someday this would happen, admittedly I was off guard when it did and the wobble was proof. My hart missed a beat, I tensed up and by instinct I steered away, towards a Jetta. I was able to straighten out but I was on an adrenaline rush for the rest of my commute. So whether you split lanes or not, be ready for that one in a million dog hanging it’s head out the window that wants a piece of you.

For more info on splitting lanes:
Lane Splitting Articles


Hatemail: Pissed off drivers

By James - 6/30/2006

I get hatemail. There are people who think that motorcycles should be banned because they are not held up to the same crash tests that cars are. Some think that the biggest vehicles rule the road and motorcyclists should just get out of the way. These people are idiots and I usually give them the consideration of my delete button. But this guy used the name of the “motorcycle community” in his “argument” and I would like to reply, and since the coward didn’t leave his email, I will respond here.

you are an a**hole. if you’re going to ride between cars you should be looking out for other people. not expecting people to look out for you. people like you gove(sic) the rest of the motorcycle community a bad name.
- mikeikem

I will ignore your opening statement, since it shows your gift for critical thought.

When I am spitting lanes, I am always watching for other people. I usually know what you are going to do before you do it. I see the woman, three cars up, hunting through her glovebox. I know she will drift into my lane as she overcompensates for leaning across the car. I see the executive, on his cellphone, who is trying to get over four lanes of traffic because he zoned out and missed his exit. I can’t say I have seen it all but I most days it is the same story, and it is always a sad story.

The problem is that 9 out of 10 drivers are not looking for motorcycles legally splitting lanes. They change lanes without checking their blind spots, and some of the ones that do check simply do not see motorcycles even though they are less than 5 feet from them. Many motorcyclists are hit when splitting lanes, but if we are riding in a safe and prudent manner, the cager is usually at fault.

Ironicly your rage and beligerent reation is typical of many cagers and is why motorists have reputations of being clueless and unfit to operate their vehicles. I could say something like “I hope to see you on the road” or assault your personal driving habits, but I think that the fear, anger, and fustration that you have to go through in your everyday commute is punishment enough. I will keep passing you, in the morning and on the way home.

My suggestion? If you can’t beat us, join us. Get on a motorcycle and leave all that anger behind. Life is too short to overheat.

For more info on splitting lanes:
Lane Splitting Articles


Mailbag: Lane-Splitting Blues

By James - 8/20/2005

After reading my Motorcycle Lane Splitting Safety article, a visitor, Josh from San Diego wanted to share an anecdote. . .

So today I got a ticket for basically splitting lanes. I live in San Diego and was getting off of the freeway and saw a motorcycle cop in the right lane of the off ramp. There’s a red light and everyone stops and I stop behind a truck, pull to the right (between the lanes) and creep up to the front of traffic. All of a sudden the motorcycle cop pulls up behind me and says to pull over at the next safe spot. He gives me a ticket for “unsafe passing on the right” which is Vehicle Code 21755. Now here’s 21755 as written on the DMV’s web site.

Pass on Right Safely - Vehicle Code 21755
The driver of a motor vehicle may overtake and pass another vehicle upon the right only under conditions permitting such movement in safety. In no event shall such movement be made by driving off the paved or main-traveled portion of the roadway.

So what exactly did I do wrong? Nothing, of course. In my experiences so far cops have an agenda against sports bike riders. Now I’ve only been riding for about 4 or 5 months and I ride a 2004 Ninja 500R. I split lanes almost all of the time down here in SoCal. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Unfortunately California’s lane-splitting law is ambiguous and hard to prove that you were traveling in a “safe and prudent” manner. Obviously a cop’s word will always win in court so I guess there is no reason to fight it. The trouble with the lane splitting law is that the biker lobby is so afraid of losing the ability to lane split altogether that nobody wants to touch it. Most bikers will live with the ambiguity, careful to not cause a scene and pay our occasional fines quietly because we know that if we brought it before the people of California they would outlaw it. It is literally fitting that the lane splitting issue, like the action itself has so little margin of error.

It is no secret that cops rarely give out tickets to make the roads a safer place. Traffic tickets are a cash cow for the government and if they really cared about safety they would require a lot more training, fines would be tens of thousands of dollars, and they would strip you of your license on your second moving violation.

So what can you do? You could lay rubber a block long right in front of City Hall. You could do a 70mph wheelie through the police parking lot. But none of these things will change the law, just get you in more trouble; even if they made you feel better in the short term. All I can say is pay your fine, keep splitting, and educate your cager friends about lane-splitting. Make them understand why we do it and how it actually SAVES them from waiting in more traffic.

For more info on splitting lanes:
Lane Splitting Articles


Faces in Mirrors

By James - 1/25/2005

One of the most important aspects of splitting lanes is trying to predict what the cars are going to do. One thing that helps me is to look in the side mirror and figure out where the driver is focusing their attention. For some reason this morning the people were so compelling that instead of finding the next driver and making sure they were staying in their lane, I had to peak into the cage I was passing because the drivers were crazy. A side mirror is like a keyhole. Your veiw is restricted to a small area, usually the eyes, a bit of the forehead and the nose but that little area tells you volumes. I sometimes see a good looking girl and take a peek to see if they are really good looking or just have a good looking eyes and nose. Half the time I am right. Half the time I am very wrong.

This morning a woman was sobbing. The Bay Bridge commute is not THAT bad. The view of the puffy eyes and nose in the mirror was a little disturbing out of the context of the rest of the face. Another guy had his face all scrunched up, like when you pass a hog farm. I never figured out what was up with him. Then there was a guy shaving. I had heard stories but never seen it before. I still think talking on the cellphone is more distracting than shaving. While odd, this morning’s commute was relatively light.

For more info on splitting lanes:
Lane Splitting Articles


Tips for Splitting Lanes

By James - 1/14/2005

90% of people in traffic are paying little attention. And that is the way I like it. For a lane splitter, the best thing a car can do is do nothing at all. Sure, I appreciate those other 9% of drivers that actually are paying attention and move aside for me, but occasionally you freak me out with your overzealous attempt to get out of my way. For those who actually steer into the median, so that I may have a half of a lane to pass, please don’t.

Splitting Lanes 101

A short video pointing out the dangers of splitting lanes.
And what about the last 1%? The third type of drivers in traffic are drivers who are paying attention, but don’t want you to pass them. They could have been cut off earlier, been chewed out at the office, or just need to get home and anybody who is not “waiting in line” like the rest of the drivers should be stopped. Most of these drivers are not homicidal and won’t open their doors, or turn into as you pass. They see you coming and slowly move over to block your path. If you get one of these drivers next to a big rig or two next to each other, you might have to wait a bit. The best thing to do is sit it out until there is space to pass and carry on. Hand gestures could turn a combustible situation into road rage and in those situations motorcyclists are at a disadvantage.

Here are some areas to be aware of when splitting lanes:

Take it from a scout: Be Prepared
They teach you in the Motorcycle Safety Course not to cover the brake when riding. That may be good advice for the open road but when you are threading the needle between goliath vehicles you need every bit of reaction time you can get. Covering the brake with your index and middle finger while gripping the throttle with the other three may save you a half second when you need to stop.

Watch out for areas where the cagers get “cagey". This includes where freeways merge, on/off ramps, where traffic starts to slow down or pick up. Slow down in these areas, because it is inevitable that a car will cut you off.

Traffic Density
Traffic Density is how close together the cars are packed. Generally as speed increases, traffic density decreases, but not always. The reason this is important to riders who split lanes is the effect it has on the drivers of the cars. As traffic density increases, the more alert a driver has to be to change lanes. And an alert driver is more likely to see you.

Use the cars for safety
You are most likely to get “squeezed” when one car is in the blind spot of another. Try to wait until the two cars are abreast of each other, or wait until you can pass normally. Drivers are more aware of the cars around them and less likely to turn into you.

Most passenger cars, with the exception of low sports cars and jacked-up trucks, have mirrors that are at the same level as your mirrors and handlebars. Since they stick out further than any other part of the car they are usually the part that gets hit in a collision. Take note of mirrors as you approach, first for placement, and then look at the driver’s eyes. You can get a lot of information by looking at the driver through the mirror and can get valuable clues to what their intentions are.

Lane Speed Differential
The best scenario for splitting lanes is when the lanes you are splitting are going the same speed. If one lane is moving faster than another there will be a lot of drivers in the slower lane trying to get into the faster lane; usually right when you get to them. When the lanes are going the same speed there are two ways for the traffic to line up. Either the cars are driving abreast of each other or they are staggered. While it may be easier to pass while the cars are staggered, it is more dangerous, since the drivers may not know you are there and could change lanes. When they are abreast, the drivers will not change lanes into the car next to them.

Cars with a lot of space in front of them are bad news. Best case is that they are not paying attention to the road and that is bad news for you. Worst case is they are waiting for a gap to change lanes and that is inevitably right when you are next to them. It is not over once you pass them. Watch out for cars changing into the open space in front of the slow car.

Any articulated vehicle is cause to slow down when splitting lanes. When traveling in a straight line the rear end of a trailer has the tendency to bounce around from side to side, usually right when you are passing it. On corners it is can be trickier. Since the rear wheels will take a tighter track than the front ones in a turn, many big rig drivers compensate by shifting to the outside of their lane. This means that when on the outside of a truck, you will find what was plenty of room to pass can quickly turn into a tight predicament when nearing the cab. If you are passing on the inside of a turn, you will find that the space will increase once you pass the rear wheels of the trailer, but beware, if you have to stop and the truck is still moving, get away from the trailer because those rear wheels may come back and hit you.

Thin is in but fat is that
While skinny bikes are good for splitting lanes, a big cruiser with loud pipes helps to alert drivers ahead of you. Don’t rely on loud pipes though, many high price cars have excellent noise insulation.

For more info on splitting lanes:
Lane Splitting Articles

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