Arlo Mudgett: Lane splitting for motorcycles could work with public education

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The Connecticut Legislature is currently debating a bill that would allow lane splitting in the nutmeg state. For those unfamiliar with the term, lane splitting is the act of riding one's motorcycle between lines of grid-locked vehicles. For folks who commute in places like southern California and up in the Bay area, it is a legal and accepted practice. It is also legal in Europe and Asia. Drivers in those parts of the world understand and respect the ability of a motorcyclist to safely "split lanes" and avoid overheating their engines and actually saving fuel. The practice does not trigger road rage in places where it has been legal for decades. In most places in the U.S., not so much.

Fellow journalist, motorcycle safety instructor and friend Paul Siciliano, a Connecticut resident, (at least until he finds the right property in Vermont) is not in favor of lane splitting. Here's Paul's take on lane splitting (from the website "Ride CT, Ride N.E.) "I am not in support of such a bill here in CT. Even though I've split lanes myself, I am now less likely to do so, if at all. As someone who rides anywhere from 12k to 23K miles annually, I believe aggressive driving is out of control, and will soon be more problematic than distracted driving. To propose that you can sway the public to sit in their cage in stopped traffic and cooperate while a motorcyclist splits the lane is just not realistic. I have had doors opened on me, cars nosed over in my path, and even powered truck mirrors extended to obstruct me as I have tried to split a lane at crawling speed to get to the shoulder. Connecticut drivers won't even stop at a white line at an intersection or a stop sign. These drivers display an entitlement in their driving actions and seem to have zero consideration for a motorcyclist. Until the laws we all know like stopping at a stop sign, speeding, yielding are enforced, I just cannot see how you can open the door for more cases of 'I didn't see them.'"

When the question was put to me by Ride CT-Ride N.E. publisher Bud Wilkinson, this was my response: "I am in favor of lane splitting for a bunch of reasons. Yes, it's legal in California, and if you've ever driven a rush hour commute there you know true frustration. I once drove (a car) from Santa Rosa in Sonoma County down to Oakland in the morning commute to San Francisco. It was slow, frustrating, but about as orderly and mellow a rush hour as I've ever seen. There were plenty of lane splitting motorcyclist to be seen on that trip, and they were all respectful and weren't abusing the privilege. It just seemed to work. Try that in New England.

Well, one day about 24 years ago I did. I had left Lubec, Maine around 6:20 AM after fueling up my BMW with 7 gallons of gas, thanks to the two Luftmeister auxiliary tanks mounted where the side covers once resided. By the time I got past Portland on I-95 I had not stopped once. It was during a July heat wave and I suddenly came upon miles upon miles of pure gridlock. I-95 was under construction and it was a mess. Everything was stopped. There was no way that I was going to survive that without an overheated engine or a million stops and restarts. I had no intention of beating up my bike like that. My goal was to get to the next exit and go cross country over to the Lakes Region of NH and home. I did just that by illegally lane-splitting. I do not condone it, and I have no intention of ever doing it again. Only a small minority of people got angry, but they were really angry about it. One guy opened his drivers door on me but I was able to avoid hitting it. Others swore and yelled at me, shaking their fists, but I just ignored them and proceeded to the very next exit. I made it home without getting off the bike once..over 400 butt punishing miles. I saved a lot of fuel and hassle by lane splitting on I-95 for a few miles. It proved to me what a fine commuting tool a motorcycle can be if only we were allowed. I'm all for lane splitting...legally."

After reading Paul's thoughts on the subject, the only thing I can say in defense is that a well-coordinated public relations and public education campaign may be the only way to introduce legal lane splitting in our neck of the woods. The practice works in California, in Europe and Asia. Can it work in New England? As a driver would it make you angry? Asking for a couple million two-wheel riding friends.

Arlo Mudgett's Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.

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