Lane-splitting could become legal in Pennsylvania: Is it safe?

One of the drawbacks of being a motorist is getting stuck in seemingly-endless traffic jams. Usually, there is no way for a car or truck to get out of a jam–you must sit and wait until traffic clears. Motorcyclists, however, sometimes choose a different option: They ride between cars in a practice called “lane-splitting.”

Lane-splitting is not legal in Pennsylvania, but that doesn’t stop some motorcycle riders from taking the risk in order to shave some time off their commute. Currently, seven states have legislation in the pipeline that would make lane-splitting legal. And if this legislation succeeds in other states, Pennsylvania may soon follow. This has led many drivers and cyclists to wonder: Is lane-splitting safe?

For and against lane-splitting

Proponents of lane-splitting say that it is safe, when done correctly. They contend that when motorcyclists are able to ride between lanes, they reduce the likelihood of rear-ending another vehicle. As an additional safety precaution, some of the proposed legislation mandates a lower speed for motorcycles that split lanes. Additionally, advocates say that lane-splitting can significantly aid traffic congestion. Motorcyclists would have a faster commute while also reducing the lines of motor vehicles crawling on the roadways. Opponents–mostly law enforcement and safety organizations–are not convinced. They argue that motorcyclists would be at risk of injury from cars that suddenly change lanes, or that drivers may be startled by a motorcycle that is splitting lanes. Critics also point out that there is relatively little research on the safety of lane-splitting.

Studying lane-splitting

Few studies have been conducted addressing the safety of lane-splitting. As a result, data and statistics about the safety of the practice are hard to come by. One study from the University of California Berkeley found that lane-splitting is relatively safe as long as it is performed at low speeds. It also concluded that motorcyclists who lane-split are less likely to sustain serious injuries than those who do not. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration noted that lane-splitting is common in other countries and voiced its support for further study. Currently, the practice is legal only in California.