Uneasy Rider June 2015
Uneasy Rider June 2015

Uneasy Rider: The Double-edged Sword of AB 51

Last month, I talked about the need for activism, and my frustration with the surprising lack of interest and engagement from some segments of the motorcycle community. This month, I want to discuss a specific issue: AB 51, the bill that would explicitly codify splitting in California.

But lane splitting is already legal! Yeah, it is. I doubt many have said that more than me. But as you’ve (hopefully) read in these pages in recent months, specifically legalizing splitting would let the CHP and other organizations educate riders and drivers again, and would also likely remove the gray area we have around fault when a rider crashes while splitting. These are valuable goals, perhaps worth compromising for.

I’ve been working with a handful of dedicated folks on AB 51: Budman from BARF, Nick Haris (AMA Western States guy), and a handful of other passionate riders. We’ve met with Assemblyman Quirk, the author of AB 51, several times, even dragged Dr. Tom Rice, the Berkeley/SafeTREC lane splitting study guy into it for a meeting or two.

Early on, we told Quirk that we wanted to explicitly “legalize” splitting without limiting it, that we didn’t want to give up the flexibility we have now for a law. The first version of AB 51 was at odds with this goal, essentially codifying the CHP lane splitting guidelines. These were excellent guidelines, and they worked, according to the trends that were starting to show up in the OTS lane share surveys, but I—we—didn’t want to see these numbers as absolute limits enshrined in law. We were very vocal about this from the beginning; we told Quirk that he should talk to Dr. Rice, and use Rice’s analysis to inform the limits in the bill.

Quirk and his staff repeated this mantra over and over: Quirk is a scientist, who values data, and that we could trust he would take the data into account and amend the bill accordingly.

When Quirk received an early summary of Dr. Rice’s most recent analysis (which should be public shortly after this issue prints), the bill was amended to increase the delta to 15 MPH, but limit speed of the splitting rider to 50 MPH—essentially limiting splitting to cases when surrounding traffic is at speeds of 35 to 40 MPH or so.

This is in contrast to Dr. Rice’s latest analysis which is summarized as:

  • There was no meaningful increase in injury incidence until traffic speed exceeded roughly 50 MPH
  • Motorcycle speed differential is a stronger predictor of outcomes
  • Speed differentials of up to 15 MPH were not associated with changes in injury occurrence
  • Above that point, increases in speed differential were associated with increases in the likelihood of injury of each type

“Traffic speed” means the speed of surrounding traffic, and according to this, we can hypothetically split at up to 65 MPH—50 MPH traffic speed plus a delta of 15 MPH.

So even though Quirk doesn’t seem to be honoring Rice’s data as he promised he would, Quirk and his staff believe that their bill, amended as per the mockup, will be good to go as-is. We’re at a crossroads: we have to either oppose the bill, or accept the compromise of 15/50.

The group I’ve been working with is in opposition to the amended bill. But I worry that if we oppose it, and successfully kill it, we abandon an opportunity to get a decent lane splitting law on the books.

There’s no way in hell we’re going to get a bill that says we can split at up to 65 MPH to go anywhere—making an argument for splitting at that speed to non-riders is a dead end. So by demanding that, we’re essentially taking a hardline approach that means we’ll never get a bill that we’re happy with.

Share the Lane Road Lane Splitting Sign from LaneSplittingIsLegal.comAll the work I’ve done with LaneSplittingIsLegal.com over the last 2 ½ years has been about getting riders to abide by the CHP guidelines, be good ambassadors for the riding community, and split safely and smartly. I believe there’s tremendous value in having a law on the books, and as I wrote in here just a few months ago, the speed limit in the law almost doesn’t matter—enforcement is likely to be nearly impossible.

AB 51, if passed as amended, would codify lane splitting in a reasonable way, and open things up for the CHP, OTS, and other organizations to educate riders and drivers again, which would be a really good thing. I think it’s worth accepting the compromise to make that happen.

Let’s ride.

This column originally appeared in our June 2015 issue, which you can read in all its original high-res glory here.