WhyBike Motorcycle Blog

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

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