Lane splitting is controversial in the United States, but recent bills proposed by state legislatures are trying to make it legal. Montana is among the states with current lane splitting bills. If the bill is passed, it could change things on the road for motorcycle and automobile operators. Learn more about lane splitting in Montana to see how it could affect you.

What is Lane Splitting?

Lane splitting means cyclists ride between lanes of slow moving traffic. It is a common practice in larger cities with high traffic congestion and in developing nations such as India and Thailand. In the United States, some states have recently introduced bills to legalize lane splitting but California is the only state to pass a lane splitting bill so far.

Introduction of 2017 Montana Lane Splitting Bill

Earlier this year, State Senator Russel Temple (R-Chester) introduced S.B. 134 that would authorize lane splitting in Montana. If the bill passes, motorcyclists operating in the state of Montana would legally be allowed to ride between lanes at a speed of no more than 20 mph as long as surrounding traffic is slower than 10 mph. The American Motorcyclist Association endorses responsible lane splitting and is asking Montana motorcyclists to support this bill.

UC Berkeley Study Shows Benefits for Riders

Before the lane splitting bill was passed in California in August 2016, the University of California, Berkeley conducted preliminary studies to determine the effects of lane splitting. UC Berkeley’s Safe Transportation Research and Education Center (SafeTREC) reviewed reports from almost 6,000 traffic collisions involving motorcycles, 997 of which involved lane splitting. The published results show a significant decrease in the likelihood of lane-splitting motorcyclists being struck from behind. Lane-splitters were also less likely to suffer head and torso injuries.

It should be noted that the study found lane-splitters to be practicing responsible driving habits more than other cyclists, such as wearing full-face helmets, refraining from alcohol use while driving and not exceeding traffic speed by too much. The study determined that splitting lanes is safe if traffic is slower than 50 mph and cyclists do not exceed surrounding traffic speed by more than 15 mph. For lane splitting to be safe and beneficial, responsible practices must be followed.

What Lane Splitting Could Mean for Drivers in 2018

By allowing motorcyclists to drive between cars, traffic can be thinned out to reduce wait time for other vehicles. A study done by the Belgian company Transport and Mobility

Leuven found that if 10% of private cars were replaced by motorcycles, traffic would be decreased enough to reduce wait time by 40%. Of course, wait time would only be reduced if legal lane splitting allowed for motorcycles to bypass stationary or slow traffic. Otherwise, the motorcycles would contribute to the congestion and there would be no change in wait time.

Potential Dangers of Lane Splitting

Improper lane splitting techniques can lead to dangerous circumstances. For instance, if a motorcyclist decides to try lane splitting in full-speed traffic, there is a chance for cars to switch lanes in front of the cyclist. Alternatively, if the cyclist were to move too fast through slow or stopped traffic, they may not have enough time to react if a hand comes out of a car window. Safe lane splitting requires responsible driving by the motorcyclist as well as heightened awareness of other road users.

Overall, legal lane splitting is safer for motorcyclists and reduces traffic congestion for everyone else. As S.B. 134 progresses through the legislative process, it could get closer to making lane splitting a reality in Montana. Although lane splitting is not yet legal in the state, there are many motorcyclists who choose to split lanes illegally. Always stay alert on the road to avoid injury and potential liability.