On Saturday, 29 June 2019, Jasmine Islam was riding her motorcycle on the Belt Parkway in Queens when she was sideswiped by a car that went on to plow into at least one other car in the same lane. While Islam was lucky and escaped with minor injuries to her leg, approximately 141 motorcyclists lose their lives on the roads of NYC every year while a further 1,588 are hospitalized due to road accidents. If it wasn’t for her lane positioning which placed her on the ride side of her lane, Islam too could have become yet another road accident fatality. If she had stayed in the middle of the travel line as directed by an NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) motorcycle safety campaign, Islam would more than likely have been run over. On the other hand, if she was lane splitting completely, chances are good that she would not have been involved in the accident at all.
Seasoned riders campaigning for lane splitting
Splitting lanes is being legalized in more states with a California passing a bill in October 2016 and a more restricted form of lane splitting being given the green light in May this year. In New York, one of the founding members of the New York Motorcycle & Scooter Task Force, Jesse Erlbaum, is strongly advocating lane splitting as a means to decrease the severity of the injuries sustained by a rider during an accident. Although rear-end collisions are not commonplace for motorcycles, when they do occur, they are typical of a very serious nature as a rider does not enjoy the same protection as a motorcar driver does.
Is lane splitting safer than originally perceived?
While many authorities are still of the belief that lane splitting is extremely dangerous, it may not be as dangerous as most people think. Research conducted by the University of California found that lane splitting can be considered ‘relatively safe’ if performed at below-average highway speeds. It was further determined than when lane-splitting riders are involved in accidents it is normally because they were traveling at excessive speeds. Regardless of whether you are on a standard bike or a cruiser, lane splitting may end up saving your life as long as you stay below the speed limit. Thomas Rice, lead author, and epidemiologist at UC Berkeley was quoted as saying: “I think any efforts to encourage riders to lower their speed differentials will prevent collisions and injuries. One result of legislation or other guidelines might be a heightened awareness among motorists about motorcycle lane splitting.”
DOT proposes multiple actions to decrease motorcycle accidents
While riders like Erlbaum are aiming to get lane-splitting legalized, DOT recommends a variety of actions that can decrease the injuries and fatalities sustained by motorcyclists. Among these is the implementation of a strategic communication plan in conjunction with the NYPD and improved data collection and distribution techniques with not only the NYPD but other relevant agencies as well. Motorcycle-focused safety campaign needs to be developed to convey various safety messages not only to motorcyclists but other road users as well. It is furthermore also important that each and every motorcyclist in the city practice basic road safety and adhere to the rules of the road at all times.
Staying safe on the road is of utmost importance. If lane splitting can decrease the number of injuries and fatalities caused by road accidents it is definitely worth considering.