After years of attempts, lane splitting might be coming to Oregon.
The state House of Representatives on Monday gave its blessing to Senate Bill 574, a proposal that allows motorcyclists to drive in between lanes of traffic in certain instances. After a 42-14 vote, the bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Kate Brown.
While not among the legislative session’s most high-profile proposals, SB 574 has received more testimony than nearly any other piece of legislation, as proponents flooded legislative inboxes clamoring for the idea. Their argument: That allowing motorcyclists to bend the normal rules during traffic jams would be good for both safety and improving congestion.
“Perhaps one of the more dangerous situations for any on-highway motorcyclist is being caught in congested traffic, where stop-and-go vehicles, distracted and inattentive vehicle operators and environmental conditions pose an increased risk of physical contact with another vehicle or hazard,” testimony from the American Motorcycle Association read. “Even minor contact under such conditions can be disastrous for motorcyclists.”
Another testifier, Tristan Lewis, wrote: “Taking motorcycles out of stopped traffic lines makes roads more efficient for everyone and incentivizes a mode of transport that doesn’t contribute to road congestion nearly as much as passenger vehicles.”
Under SB 574, motorcyclists are allowed to split lanes only on multi-lane highways with a speed limit of at least 50 mph. When traffic slows to 10 mph or less on those roads, motorcyclists are permitted to ride between cars, at no more than 10 mph faster than the flow of traffic. The law does not apply in school zones or work zones.
California currently allows lane splitting under different circumstances than Oregon’s law, and Montana recently passed a bill of its own. Utah allows a similar concept called lane filtering when traffic is stopped at an intersection. One frequently cited study from the University of California Berkeley concluded that lane splitting can be safe under certain conditions.
Bills to allow lane splitting have been introduced repeatedly in Oregon, frequently attracting little interest. This year the bill had a bipartisan group of sponsors from both chambers, and faced little serious pushback.
“I’ve watched and seen a lot of bad motorcycle riders who are careless who are reckless,” said state Rep. Ron Noble, R-McMinnville, who rides a motorcycle and carried the bill on the House floor. “Unfortunately this law won’t change that behavior. What it will allow is for those of us who strive to obey the law, it gives us an opportunity to find refuge. It will provide me personally with another option to ride safe.”
Not everyone was sold.
State Rep. David Gomberg, D-Otis, said he worried the law would be flouted by unsafe riders. “I’m concerned that, with all these well intentioned sideboards, that stopped traffic is the last place that first responders are going to be enforcing these sideboards,” he said.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Montana recently passed a law allowing lane splitting.