When you pay close attention to the news, it quickly becomes obvious that even just in the local Sacramento area, serious auto accidents happen nearly every day. And unfortunately, many of these accidents could easily have been avoided.

(Photo courtesy of Eric Schmuttenmaer, CC-BY-SA-2.0)

(Photo courtesy of Eric Schmuttenmaer, CC-BY-SA-2.0)

On Sunday, September 27th, a motorcyclist from San Jose was killed on I-80 while passing through West Sacramento. The rider was attempting to lane-split between a tractor-trailer and a large flatbed truck when the motorcycle began to wobble. The cyclist was unable to keep the bike upright, and ended up dumping it, ejecting both himself and a passenger onto the roadway. The passenger was hit by the tractor-trailer, and was taken to the hospital with serious injuries. The driver went under the tires of the flatbed and died on the scene.

While full details on the recent accident in West Sacramento aren’t available yet, police stated that the motorcycle rider was traveling at about 15 to 20 mph, and likely lost control of the bike due to trying to thread his way through the narrow space left between the two very large, wide vehicles to either side. The cyclist was riding a Harley-Davidson Electra Glide, a large model that weighs nearly 900 pounds. Heavy bikes can be very difficult to balance when traveling at low speeds. It seems likely that he either dropped below the minimum speed needed to keep the heavy bike balanced, or suddenly jerked to one side to avoid one truck, and then overcorrected in order to avoid colliding with the other.

Either way, it’s clear that the accident could have been avoided entirely, had the motorcyclist been more cautious about when and where to lane-split.

California is the only state in which lane-splitting is legal (though to be more accurate, it simply isn’t specifically prohibited by state traffic regulations, and thus is de facto legal). The decision by all other states in the country to ban the act is largely due to the fact that lane-splitting can be extremely risky, depending on road and traffic conditions.

If you ride a motorcycle in California, you have the legal right to lane-split while traveling on the state’s roadways. However, when you do so, please remember that your safety isn’t worth risking just to get to your destination a little faster. If you’re going to lane-split, only do so when there is plenty of clearance between lanes of traffic—especially if you are riding a larger touring bike, such as the one the victim of last month’s accident was riding. Know your limitations, and the limitations of your bike.

Here are a few more tips on maximizing your safety while lane-splitting:

  • Wear proper gear: Don’t lane-split while wearing a t-shirt and jeans. The chances of being clipped by a car are greatest when you are lane-splitting. Wear clothing that will properly protect your knees, elbows, feet and head.
  • Pay attention: You can’t relax for a moment when you lane-split. If you want to just kick back and enjoy the scenery, then play it safe and stay in your traffic lane.
  • Look for the widest gap: Since big trucks are mostly in the right-most lane and the one next to it, the gap between the two is the narrowest. Avoid that one. Choose the largest aisle between two lanes.
  • Don’t keep pace with traffic: Don’t continue to ride next to a certain car, because they’ll inevitably end up trying to merge into the next lane, and end up merging into you instead. When you’re lane-splitting, you should be passing traffic to both sides. If traffic picks up enough to where you can move at or near the speed limit within a single lane of traffic, then it’s probably time to stop lane-splitting for the time being.
  • Don’t greatly exceed the speed of traffic either: If traffic is stopped, you definitely shouldn’t be doing 55 mph. Additionally, the odds are good that you’ll get nailed by the CHP for one violation or another.

The most important things to remember are: be patient, and operate within your comfort zone. You don’t have to lane-split. Only do so if you feel you can do so safely and competently.

Please note that this article doesn’t represent an endorsement of lane-splitting. Lanes-splitting has inherent risks. But remembering the above can at least minimize the risk that you face.