French Study Suggests Motorcycle Lane Splitting Can Lead To More Crashes

Illustration for article titled French Study Suggests Motorcycle Lane Splitting Can Lead To More Crashes
Photo: Chris Yarzab / Flickr

I’m generally a supporter of allowing motorcycles to split the lanes of slow or stopped traffic. But I’ve always wondered how truly safe the practice is. We now have some insight as a French study concluded that lane splitting caused a 12 percent increase in motorcycle crashes in the areas the study was conducted in.

This news comes from the Federation of European Motorcyclists’ Associations (FEMA). The study was conducted in 11 French departments — the French equivalent of a county — over a period of five years. The Centre for Studies and Expertise on Risks, Environment, Mobility and Planning (CEREMA) was in charge of assessing the study while the Fédération Française des Motards en Colère (French Federation of Angry Bikers, according to Google) helped set up lane splitting guidelines.

The end result? The submitted report shows that over the five year period, motorcycle accidents increased by 12 percent in the 11 departments while accidents decreased by 10 percent on roads outside of the testing area.

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But it’s not all bad news. The report also shows that the study successfully spread lane-splitting awareness to car drivers, especially newly trained drivers. Drivers also took well to the splitting of the motorcycles, too.

Eric Thiollier, board member of FFMC, felt the impact was positive, even if the results weren’t as expected:

The behaviour and the safety records improved significantly during the five year period of the experiment, showing that setting rules had a positive impact, although not enough to be satisfying. The increase in accidents could also be linked to the fact that more powered two-wheelers were lane-splitting.

Thankfully, it appears the organizers of the first study are gearing up for a second study to see how splitting could be made safer in the region.

A 2014 UC Berkeley study concluded that motorcycles that lane split are less likely to be rear-ended by a car but are more likely to rear-end a car, reports the Sacramento Bee. Speed differential between a splitting motorcycle and car traffic turned out to be a big factor determining danger. It suggested that riders who split in a slow and safe manner are in no more danger than they usually are otherwise.

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Lane splitting is illegal here in Illinois. Despite that, I see a lot of motorcycles lane splitting, anyway. Seeing a splitting motorcycle almost get clobbered by a lane-changing car is a frequent occurrence during the summer. Still, I believe lane splitting can be beneficial. After all, motorcycles don’t need to be stuck in the same traffic jams as cars. I think a combination of safe splitting practices, like maintaining low-speeds, as well as car driver education would be a big help.

Staff Writer at Jalopnik and learning pilot. Loves all vehicles! Smart Fortwo (x4), Honda Beat, AmTran School Bus, VW Passat W8, Jetta TDI (x2), Audi TT, Buell Lightning, Suzuki Burgman, Yamaha U7E...

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DISCUSSION

I lane split in the DC area in the summer when I am stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, laws be damned. When traffic is barely moving on the Beltway and it’s 90++ degrees, I’m at greater risk of a heat stroke than I am of a car accident while splitting. I’m still not going to go over 15-20 mph, and I tend to prefer the shoulder if it’s clear (and clean— sooo much crap on the shoulder), but again: HEAT STROKE.

That’s why I’ve always championed lane splitting for stopped/slow traffic— it makes sense, and done responsibility, it’s perfectly safe.

Where I get hinky is lane splitting while traffic is flowing. Even if traffic is less than the marked speed limit, anything above 45 mph should still be fine for everyone. I wouldn’t trust most drivers to notice me at that speed, absent a LOT of education and culture shift, i.e. California, or Europe, where I’ve felt comfortable lane splitting among people who live with it every day.

That said, this study? This study does give me a bit of pause, and makes me wonder why the data shows what it does. Is it because of “cautious” splitters like myself, or is it because of reckless speeders?

What’s French for squid again?