OPINION: Lane-splitting for motorcycles should be legal in Alberta

More tools needed to protect cyclists’ lives from motorists

Those who keep track of regional traffic news were probably as surprised as I was this past week to hear there was already a motorcycle fatality on the Henday freeway in Edmonton.

On March 13 police reported a motorcyclist had been injured after rear-ending an SUV on the west leg of the Henday. Marcel Murray was only 31 years old. Police stated that he was behind an SUV allegedly travelling partly in one lane, partly in another when the SUV suddenly braked. According to police, Murray’s motorcycle struck the back of the SUV. He was rushed to hospital but died later.

I’m not a supporter of motorcycles on freeways in March, as the ditches are still full of snow and roads tend to be covered in sand dunes from winter road maintenance. Plus, I’m not brave enough to ride my bike on the Anthony Henday, as the dense, psycho traffic scares the crap out of me. Even around Wetaskiwin I see people regularly running stop signs and ignoring right of way or stunting down the middle of icy streets. However, those aren’t topics I’m writing about today.

I was also shocked and saddened by the number of motorcycle collisions and injuries just in 2018 in Alberta. Last spring, by the middle of May, there had already been five motorcyclists killed in two weeks. Some of the deaths involved motorists making left-hand turns directly in front of motorcyclists, ignoring right of way.

It’s for these reasons and others that I feel the Alberta government must immediately begin research and as quickly as possible bring into law lane-splitting legislation which will give motorcyclists another tool to protect their lives from motorists who engage in behaviour such as running stop signs, stunting or choosing not to yield the right of way on public roads.

Lane-splitting, simply put, allows motorcyclists to legally manoeuvre between vehicles in order to get to the front of the traffic line. Some may claim there are two terms used, filtering and lane-splitting, depending on where in the lane a motorcyclist maneuvers. However, if you Google search “filtering,” the first thing that pops up is Wikipedia’s entry on lane-splitting. I think only the stupid or obtuse use the two terms, which are obviously unnecessary and confusing, especially to non-riders.

Anyhoo, those who think lane-splitting would make no difference obviously don’t know it’s already legal in some U.S. states, and has made a noticeable difference in safety.

According to a recent article in Cycleworld magazine titled “AMA: Study Finds Lane-Splitting Increases Rider Safety,” a major university studied lane-splitting and found it caused no issue for motorists and increased rider safety.

“A new study by the University of California Berkeley shows that motorcyclists who split lanes in heavy traffic are significantly less likely to be struck from behind by other motorists and are less likely to suffer head or torso injuries, the American Motorcyclist Association reports,” stated Cycleworld’s June, 2015 article.

“Researchers, led by Dr. Thomas Rice of the Safe Transportation Research and Education Center (SafeTREC), reviewed nearly 6,000 motorcycle-involved traffic collisions between June 2012 and August 2013, including 997 in which the riders were splitting lanes at the time of the crash.

“Compared to riders who were not splitting lanes, lane-splitting motorcyclists were markedly less likely to suffer head injury (9 percent vs. 17 percent), torso injury (19 percent vs. 29 percent) or fatal injury (1.2 percent vs. 3 percent).”

Cyclists deserve every life-saving option open to them, and the Alberta government must introduce the lane-splitting option as soon as possible.

Stu Salkeld is editor of The Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.

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