GIF: NYCMotoCommuter (YouTube)

There are countless ways things can go wrong when riding a motorcycle, but one of the most prominent fears is to have some iPhone-focused car driver rear end you while sitting in traffic or at a stoplight. As you can see in the video here, it’s a serious concern.

The clip shows a close call where Jasmine Islam was riding her Kawasaki Ninja
when she narrowly avoided getting taken out by an apparently distracted driver while sitting in traffic on the Belt Parkway in Queens, New York Saturday at 3:30 p.m., according to a New York Police Department spokesperson. After the car sideswiped the motorcyclist, it continued on to plow through at least one other car in the lane.

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“My leg got hurt a bit but not too bad,” Islam said to Jalopnik. “Having good boots really helped, [or] else I’d likely be in the hospital.”

Police confirmed that three vehicles were involved in the crash. Though there “were several complaints of pain by passengers of the vehicles,” no one was taken to a hospital, police said.

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The driver who struck the two other vehicles was issued a summons solely for driving without insurance.

Islam said that now, following the crash, her bike is currently out of commission.

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“The peg holder broke and the shifter is hanging free, can’t even shift it with my hands,” Islam said.

It’s unclear what caused the driver to sideswipe the biker and slam into the cars. Though Islam explained her observations in a YouTube comment.

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“It seemed like he was high—way too calm after an accident like that,” Islam said on YouTube. “He didn’t have any explanation and I really wasn’t in a mood to listen to any anyway.”

Islam was in rider path three, as shown in the image above.
Graphic: Motorcycle Safety Foundation

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If it wasn’t for the rider’s lane positioning, which placed her on the right side of the lane and not the center of the lane, she could’ve ended up through the windshield of the seemingly distracted driver. It’s also worth noting that the rider wasn’t fully lane splitting, as it’s illegal in New York. She was just sitting in path three of her lane as traffic crawled.

A motorcycle safety campaign from the New York City Department of Transportation tells riders to “stay in middle of travel lane,” which would’ve ended poorly in this situation.

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“I would have likely been run over at 20+ mph if I was more in the center of the lane, or possibly been squished between the Accord and Maxima,” Islam said.

If she had been lane splitting completely, Islam likely wouldn’t have been involved in the wreck at all, and would’ve been able to continue through traffic without issue. These sorts of crashes are avoidable.

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Jesse Erlbaum, one of the founding members of the New York Motorcycle & Scooter Task Force and a rider for more than ten years, is a strong advocate for lane splitting. The rider also meets monthly with NYPD and New York City Department of Transportation officials, as well as some other dedicated motorcyclists, to discuss how to make riding in the five boroughs safer.

Photo: Chris Yarzab/Flickr

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“Lane splitting does not change the rate of motorcycle crashes,” Erlbaum said to Jalopnik. “When done prudently, it does significantly change the type of injuries riders may have... You just have less acceleration in very bad ways [in the event of a lane splitting crash].”

Though rear-end collisions are somewhat rare for motorcycles, it is a totally real thing. And without the cage-like protections that car drivers get, when motorcycles get taken out from behind, it can be nasty.

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With regard to two-vehicle motorcycle crashes in 2016, 72 percent of motorcycle wrecks were frontward. Just 7 percent of those crashes were in the rear, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In New York City in 2018, traffic fatalities hit an all-time low with 200 deaths, but motorcycle deaths in the five boroughs climbed from 33 in 2017 to 39, according to the New York Times.

Riding between lanes is slowly becoming increasingly legal here in the states. A lane splitting bill in California was passed in August 2016, and a form of more conditionalized lane splitting became legal in Utah in May 2019. It’s also legal, like, everywhere else in the world.

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A study done by University of California, Berkeley transportation researchers in 2015 showed that lane splitting is at least “relatively safe” if done below normal highway speeds. The study also found that lane splitters were less likely to die or have head or torso injury in the event of a crash.

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“We have learned that when lane-splitting motorcycle riders are involved in collisions, the most common scenario is a rider traveling too fast when a motorist attempts to change lanes,” said UC Berkeley’s study lead author and epidemiologist Thomas Rice in a press release from 2015. “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.”

At one point, and possibly even still today, NHTSA also agreed with this sort of philosophy.

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“There is evidence that traveling between lanes of stopped or slow-moving cars (i.e., lane splitting) on multiple-lane roads (such as interstate highways) slightly reduces crash frequency compared with staying within the lane and moving with other traffic,” the NHTSA’s website says, citing literature from 1981.

When asked for comment on this incident and on New York’s motorcycle safety efforts, NYCDOT spokesman Brian Zumhagen directed us to two anti-lane splitting campaigns from the city which he said “addresses the issue of motorcyclists riding between lanes.”

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“As a rider, I feel much safer lane splitting, because I feel much more control over my destiny,” Erlbaum said. “If I’m going to be hit by a car while lane splitting, that car will be in front of me or beside me. Not behind me.”