Riders understand a couple inescapable realities:
- Many motorists assume riders are reckless
- Those drivers are often the ones who pose a threat to motorcyclists, and the reason behind what we do.
Some preconceptions held by car, truck, and SUV drivers may be in part due to misunderstood behaviors they’ve seen from motorcyclists. Let’s take a look at some of the common behaviors that are often misunderstood by both riders and drivers of standard automobiles.
Lane Splitting and Passing Between Vehicles
Lane splitting is the number one rider behavior that evokes negative feelings against motorcyclists from drivers nationwide – or at least about 60% of them according to some studies. The act of lane splitting is essentially driving between lanes to pass gridlocked or especially slow traffic. What many drivers probably don’t realize is the practice not only enhances the safety of the rider, it has the beneficial effect of reducing traffic congestion for all roadway users.
Currently only California and Utah allow lane splitting under certain circumstances. Hawaii recently passed a law allowing motorcyclists to utilize the shoulder of the highway, but only when the state designates the shoulder open to motorcyclists on those highways. However, according to Dairyland Insurance Company, the practices of lane splitting and lane filtering are gaining traction across the United States, which they describe as good news for motorcyclists.
The California Highway patrol specifically endorses the practice under that state’s conditions, which provide that motorcyclists should drive no more than 10 miles per hour faster than other traffic and should avoid splitting lanes when traffic is moving at 30 miles per hour or faster. The American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) also endorses lane splitting, citing the long-term success in California and a study by UC Berkeley’s Safe Transportation & Education Center showing the practice enhances motorcycle safety.
AAA of Southern California supports California’s law, and AAA of the Bay Area employs people to do roadside assistance using motorcycles who regularly take advantage of California’s law.
The fact is that the United States is in the minority of the world when it comes to lane splitting. The majority of the world allows the practice, to include almost all of Europe. Another interesting study conducted in Brussels, the capital of Belgium – another place where lane splitting is legal – concluded the average driver’s daily commute could be cut by approximately 40% if only 10% of cars were replaced with motorcycles and scooters. They cited lane splitting as one of the valuable factors that would help reduce congestion if more motorcycles were on the road.
Many riders swear by lane splitting in congested stop-and-go traffic, where sitting in the middle of a lane leaves them open to being rear-ended by distracted drivers. In Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and West Virginia, while it is legal for two motorcyclists to share a single lane, the act of lane splitting has not been authorized by statute or regulation.
Is It Legal for Motorcyclists to Drive on the Shoulder of a Roadway?
No, riding in the shoulder isn’t legal (except in Hawaii as described above). The shoulder may look inviting in stop-and-go rush hour traffic, but it is not legal in the vast majority of the United States. A word of caution to riders who may consider using the shoulder to escape stopped traffic—a lot of potentially damaging debris from the road such as screws, nails, road gators, gravel, and sand from unsecured loads often ends up in shoulders. You run the risk of damaging your bike or suffering an injury when riding the shoulder. Additionally, the shoulder is used by first responders, who are often riding at increased speeds to get to the scene of an accident up the road which is causing the traffic jam to begin with.
Is It Legal for a Group Ride to Use “Blockers”?
Many drivers who have seen the phenomenon of a large group of riders using blockers to stop oncoming traffic at intersections may assume the practice is being done just to inconvenience other motorists. The idea behind blockers is to move a group of motorcyclists, who are often on a charity ride, through an intersection without getting split up by other traffic. Some states have passed “road guard” legislation that specifically authorizes this practice. However, it remains illegal in a majority of states, to include Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and West Virginia.
Is It Legal for Motorcycle Riders to Run Red Lights?
There are actually scenarios where motorcycle riders can treat a red light like a stop sign. This is generally an issue in rural areas where a motorcycle may not be able to set off the vehicle sensor that would otherwise give a larger vehicle a turn to go through an intersection. In South Carolina (§ 56-5-970), Virginia (§ 46.2-833) and North Carolina (§ 20-158) riders may go through a red light if they:
- Completely stop
- Wait a minimum of two cycles of the light (or two minutes in Virginia and South Carolina– three minutes in North Carolina)
- Check both ways and gives the right of way to drivers with the green light
Share the Road with Respect
YouTube is full of unfortunate road rage videos that are too often incited by misunderstanding and perceived slights. Preventing these types of incidents is in everyone’s best interest, so the best rule of thumb is to ride defensively, safely, and courteously. It’s a team effort between car, truck, and SUV drivers and motorcycle riders. A little bit of understanding and a greater appreciation for the vulnerability of riders could help make the roads a safer place for everyone.
If you or a loved one are ever injured in a motorcycle accident in Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Georgia, don’t hesitate the contact the Motorcycle Law Group at 1-800-321-8968 for a free consultation.