By CHRISTOPHER S. RAINWATER, M.P.A., 358th Civil Affairs Brigade Safety U.S. Army Reserve, Riverside, Calif. May 2, 2012
Cynthia was an experienced rider, and she and Tim enjoyed getting out on the weekends and taking trips on their bikes. On this particular trip, the two had taken a week off to travel from their home in northern New Mexico to California. As they rode on an interstate, Cynthia was "lane splitting" between a car and a pickup when the pickup suddenly changed lanes. Not seeing Cynthia, the driver of the pickup bumped her motorcycle, trapping her left leg between the truck and the bike. Cynthia was thrown off the bike and came to rest about 80 feet away in a field.
Cynthia was airlifted to the closest hospital, where she underwent surgery to save her life. The surgeries were successful; however, Cynthia, a beautiful immigrant from Germany, lost her left leg below the knee and suffered extensive cuts to her body that resulted in terrible scarring. Cynthia was in the intensive care unit for two weeks.
Active and involved before the accident, Cynthia now found herself disabled. Her looks -- she had been a model in Germany -- were deeply affected by the injuries. It was uncertain if and when she could ever return to her career in New Mexico. In her eyes, life, as a result of the motorcycle accident, looked bleak.
I spoke with Cynthia and Tim on several occasions after the accident, and my wife and I happily tracked her improvement. She told me the crash was her fault. She knew lane splitting was dangerous and not allowed elsewhere, but she felt empowered by California's allowance of this dangerous practice. She thought she'd try it out.
Less than a month after the accident, I got an early morning call from Tim. He told me Cynthia had wheeled herself outside last night, watched the sun set over a New Mexico mesa and then took her own life. The physical agony she was enduring, the loss of her leg and the physical scarring were all too much for her. This incredibly lovely and bubbly woman, only 46 years old, was gone. Although what she'd done on her motorcycle may have been legal in California, it was anything but safe.
What is Lane Splitting?
California is unique in a number of ways. Its allowance of lane splitting, the term used to describe a motorcycle sharing your lane as they pass you (between you and another vehicle), has come under a lot of controversy.
While California does not specifically authorize lane splitting, at the same time, it fails to outlaw it. Worse, perhaps, California requires that motorcyclists simply use caution and operate their bikes "prudently." This vague standard leaves plenty of room for bikers to interpret it however they wish.
On my drive from my home in Sun City, Calif., to March Air Reserve Base, located in Riverside, I travel on Interstate 215. Countless bikers, many wearing ACUs, blow by me as they weave between vehicles. Traffic is often slow during the commute, and the bikers travel at far greater speeds than traffic -- adding to the many dangers of lane splitting.
If you are a biker, or if you have friends or relatives that ride motorcycles, share this with them. Remind them to follow these guidelines.
• Travel no more than 10 mph faster than the vehicles with which they're lane-splitting.
• Merge back in with the traffic when they reach 30 to 35 mph.
• Never exceed the speed limit.
• Lane-splitting between lanes one and two is preferred (lane one being the fast or inside lane)
• Stay, more or less, in one lane or the other. Excessive meandering might get you cited. (California code 21658)
• Ride carefully to not cause damage to other vehicles.
Editor's note: The names have been changed to protect the family's privacy.
The topic of lane splitting gets a lot of attention on the blog-o-sphere, especially in California. The following was an interesting contribution from a motorcycle officer responding to an individual who'd been ticketed for going 35 to 40 mph while lane splitting in stop-and-go traffic.
"At that speed you are traveling 58.7 feet per second … which is about four or five car lengths per second. An average reaction time is .75 seconds … meaning you have traveled 44 feet, or three to four car lengths, before you can even begin to apply the brakes or maneuver. If any of the cars within those three to four car lengths cuts you off, you would be a hood ornament before your brain could tell your body to react. Probably not a safe speed after all, don't you think? I ride over 130 miles on a motorcycle every weekday and I investigate very serious accidents. Speed on a motorcycle can be very deadly -- even what you think is a slower speed could be fatal. Be safe while riding."