Gov. Kate Brown vetoes bill allowing ‘lane splitting’ by Oregon motorcyclists

By Dirk VanderHart (OPB)
May 27, 2021 2:06 a.m.

Motorcycle riders have pushed the law for years, saying they’re safer when they can ride between slow moving cars. Brown disagreed.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown speaks at a press conference in Portland, Ore., Friday, March 20, 2020. Brown put in a request to the federal government for more PPE, but had only received 25% of it as of Wednesday.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown speaks at a press conference in Portland, Oregon in March 2020.

Bradley W. Parks / OPB

Gov. Kate Brown is blocking a bipartisan bill that would allow motorcyclists to ride between lanes when traffic is crawling on Oregon highways.


Brown sent a letter to the House and Senate on Wednesday informing them of her decision to veto Senate Bill 574; citing concerns about safety by the practice known as “lane splitting” or “lane filtering.”

“I have several concerns with the bill as currently drafted, particularly related to public safety and noncompliance,” Brown wrote to Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek.

Under SB 574, motorcyclists would have been permitted to travel between lanes on multi-lane highways with a speed limit of at least 50 mph, but only when traffic had slowed to 10 mph or less on those roads. Motorcyclists riding between cars could travel no more than 10 mph faster than the flow of traffic.

Proponents said the bill was a compromise from past attempts to legalize lane splitting in Oregon and drew a distinction between the proposal and the law in California, where riders can travel in between cars at faster speeds.

Supportive motorcyclists testified in favor of the bill in droves, arguing the policy would help riders avoid being rear-ended in stop-and-go traffic, and would help clear congestion. Many pointed to a study from the University of California, Berkeley, that concluded lane splitting can be safe under certain conditions.

FILE - In this May 26, 2011 file photo, a motorcyclist rides between lanes in California.

FILE - In this May 26, 2011 file photo, a motorcyclist rides between lanes in California.

Eric Risberg / AP

But there were opponents too. The City of Portland worried the practice would “spill onto city streets.” And the Oregon Transportation Safety Committee opposed the bill on the grounds that it would put motorcyclists in the blind spots of other drivers.

“As we combat the dangers of distracted, impaired and careless driving, taking away the safety of a full lane of cushion around the motorcyclist doesn’t improve the safety environment in Oregon for motorcyclists,” the committee’s chair, Victor Hoffer, wrote in testimony.

Those arguments and others like them held sway with the governor.

“Many stakeholders, including law enforcement agencies and members of the public remain concerned that lane filtering is unsafe for both the motorcyclists and the drivers sharing the road, due to the serious injuries and death that commonly result from motorcycle-involved accidents,” Brown wrote. She added that she was worried riders would not comply with the narrow provisions of the new law.

“Based on these concerns, I am returning SB 574 unsigned and disapproved,” the governor wrote.

While the Legislature can override a governor’s veto with a two-thirds vote in each chamber, that could prove too high a hurdle for SB 574. The bill passed the House by that margin, but fell two votes shy in the Senate. Six senators were absent for that vote, however, and could put the bill over if legislative leaders want to force the matter.

State Sen. Michael Dembrow, one of the bill’s chief sponsors, said Wednesday evening an override vote “would be a stretch.”

“I would be surprised,” the Portland Democrat told OPB. “I understand the governor’s commitment to safety but I believe her concern is unwarranted given the narrow circumstances that the bill covers.”