California lawmakers are considering making lane-splitting, the motorcycle maneuver that involves traveling between two lanes, official. A new law would make California the first state to formally legalize the time-saving tactic. However, there’s still debate over whether the move is safe, according to the Los Angeles Times. Lawmakers in the state Assembly are expected to pass the measure Thursday, after which it would go to the Senate for approval.
California is the only state that doesn’t outright ban lane-splitting. Law enforcement typically looks the other way when it happens. Motorcyclists in other states, including Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Washington, have unsuccessfully urged lawmakers to allow them to cut lanes when traffic slows, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year. Lane-splitting is a common practice in most other countries and is particularly prevalent in Europe as a way to relieve traffic congestion.
Under California’s proposed legislation, motorcycle riders would be allowed to travel between lanes at speeds up to 15 miles per hour faster than the cars around them, but no faster than 50 miles per hour.
Previous research has shown that lane-splitting is generally safer than what most drivers might think. Motorcyclists who lane-split were less likely to be rear-ended by cars, the most dangerous type of accident for a motorcycle driver, according to a 2014 study by the California Office of Traffic Safety. At the same time, lane-splitters were more likely to rear-end other vehicles.
“What we learned is, if you lane-split in a safe or prudent manner, it is no more dangerous than motorcycling in any other circumstance,” state spokesman Chris Cochran told the Sacramento Bee in October. “If you are speeding or have a wide speed differential [with other traffic,] that is where the fatalities came about.”
The American Motorcyclist Association isn’t so convinced. “While research and evidence suggest that lane splitting may reduce a motorcyclist’s risk exposure somewhat, we are cautious to issue a blanket endorsement supporting the practice,” the group said in a statement. “Even with the best intentions and organization, inappropriate behavior by motorcyclists can quickly garner a large negative response from the motoring public.”