Friday, June 5, 2015

Liberalize Traffic Lanes by Allowing Motorcyclists to Ride Between Lanes

When you think of your stereotypical motorcyclist, what runs through your mind? Perhaps it's the rebellious nature of the biker or the fearlessness. That could explain why they like weaving in and out of lanes. This ability of a two-wheeled vehicle to weave in and out of lanes, also known as lane-splitting, has become outlawed in 49 out of 50 states. It's not simply a matter of annoying automobile drivers. The argument made for banning lane-splitting is that it makes it less safe for bikers to ride. Not only do I wonder if that is a reason to make it illegal, but I have to wonder if that is even true.

Why should I doubt it? It seems intuitive enough. Crazy bikers or cyclists who aimlessly ride can get hurt by the big, bad automobile, or to be less sarcastic, perhaps they're not paying attention or don't notice an automobile suddenly switching lanes. The sort of paternalistic thinking that inflates the costs without even remotely considering the benefits is what drives such laws into existence.

For one, size matters, but not in the way that cliché is normally used. Because of a motorcycle's petit size, it is able to squeeze in between lanes more easily than an automobile. Not only can the motorcyclist get through traffic more quickly, but it helps reduce both overall congestion and carbon emissions (Transport and Mobility Leuven, 2011).

Let's consider the safety factors. Again, I know it seems intuitive that allowing for lane-splitting makes its unsafe for bikers to ride. However, a study that was released only a few days ago (Rice and Troszak, 2015) stated that lane-splitting actually increases rider safety because it's harder to hit a motorcycle that is riding between automobiles than in front of them. This is by far the most comprehensive study done on the subject. The study did come with some caveats, however, such as that it's safe as long as the motorcycle is going 50 MPH and is not exceeding the speed limit by 15 MPH. Those who were doing the lane-splitting were less likely to be inebriated, more likely to lane-split during the daytime, and more likely to wear a helmet, all of which suggest that lane-splitting bikers are more safety-conscientious bikers. It shouldn't take multiple studies for someone to realize that zipping by slow-moving vehicles is a bad idea, but you'll still have the occasional imbecile doing it. That imbecile shouldn't make it illegal for others, especially since the latest study echoes what other studies (e.g., Guderian, 2011; Ouelett, 2011) have been saying all along: lane-splitting is safer than banning it.

I can list off other benefits of lane-splitting, such as reducing cyclists' exposure to heat and car exhaust, reduction in engine damage from constant idling, but the point is that lane-splitting should not be illegal. As the American Motorcyclists Association points out, lane-splitting should not be required, which is to say that the motorcyclist should have the right to choose whether to lane-split or not. Much like other practices, doing lane-splitting in a responsible manner comes with many benefits. Highly urbanized areas in Europe and Asia have already reaped the benefits of liberalizing traffic laws for motorcyclists, so there's no reason why the United States shouldn't join the fast lane.

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