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CALIFORNIA - When to yield to a lane-splitting motorcyclist

 Roadshow: When to yield to a lane-splitting motorcyclist

By Gary Richards
Posted: 10/24/2011 12:00:00 AM PDT Updated: 10/24/2011 05:40:03 AM PDT
Q Scene: Northbound Interstate 880 south of the 238-580 exit on a Friday at 4 p.m. Carpool lane is moving at 40 mph, and No. 2 lane is flowing at 30 mph. I'm in a car in the No. 2 lane with a passenger and preparing to merge into the carpool lane.
Asher Waldfogel
Palo Alto
A So far so good, but then it turns hairy.
Q I see a gap in the No. 1 lane, signal to move left and also see a motorcycle lane-splitting on the right side of the carpool lane a few cars back. I merge. Motorcycle pulls alongside and makes various threatening gestures before he advances down his lane-split.
Question: What do your CHP friends recommend as a best practice for motorcycles and cars in this situation? Who has the right of way in a merge when a motorcycle is behind me, lane-splitting and advancing faster than traffic in its lane?
Asher Waldfogel
A My ruling: You need to give ground and let the motorcyclist pass. And the CHP agrees:
"Your ruling is spot-on," said D.J.-the-CHP-Man. "Lots of stuff happening in this scenario, but ultimately since this driver sees the motorcyclist coming, the safest thing would be to let him pass. If the two would have collided, the driver's own statement alone would put him at fault because he
- says he sees him coming.
"Now, he also says he sees the motorcyclist splitting a few cars behind him. What is a few cars? To me, it would be three, but for other people, who knows? He also doesn't state at what speed he thinks the motorcyclist is going. Why would the motorcyclist be so upset with him?"
My turn: Lane-splitting is legal at speeds around 45 mph or less, and I am always on the lookout for motorcyclists. The object is to do what is safe, and in this situation that means allowing the faster-moving cyclist to continue. Don't move into the carpool lane until he is past you.
Q Motorcyclists on Highway 35 have been a problem for decades. I was a reserve deputy sheriff with San Mateo County as a part of the diver/underwater recovery and cliff rescue unit back in the early '80s. We would spend our weekends patrolling the coast waiting for something we would need to respond to. As most of us were trained as EMTs, we would also respond to auto/motorcycle accidents.
That inevitably meant that whenever there was an accident on Skyline Boulevard, which was just about every weekend, we would leave the coast and head up Highway 84 or 92 to provide aid until paramedics arrived. Motorcyclists have been using this stretch of road for years as their racetrack. There were motorcycle accidents on 35 or 84 literally every weekend in the warmer months. I cannot count how many accidents we responded to where there were minor to major injuries. I can, however, count how many fatal accidents we responded to -- seven in three years just on my watch.
One of the biggest causes of these accidents was usually a rider rounding a left-hand curve with wheels just to the right of the yellow line. This put most of the bike and the rider leaning into oncoming traffic. This is what leads to so many head-ons and sideswipe crashes. All you have to do is drive up there on a weekend, find a safe place to park and then wait. I guarantee that you will see one or a group of bikes screaming along that road.
These guys are very dangerous out there, and it has been going on for decades.
Jonathan Huddleston
San Mateo
A Jonathan's comments are in response to a column I wrote about driving Highway 9 to 35 a few weeks ago, when tailgating motorcyclists who also veered across the center line to pass on curves scared me to no end. I hope his comments resonate with some of them.
Q I read your column about speeding trailers. Well, there is another class of freeway users who routinely speed and never seem to get caught. I am talking about motorcyclists. In 21 years of driving in the Bay Area, I have never seen a motorcyclist pulled over. They blow by me even when I am driving 70 mph. They split lanes even if traffic is moving at the speed limit. I am sure motorcyclists will vehemently disagree, but they are a reckless lot.
Santosh Ghirnikar
A Some are, but motorcycle crashes have declined after years of increasing, and that is a hopeful sign that most are more cautious.

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