2013 California Lane Sharing Survey Released by OTS

The California Office of Traffic Safety has released the 2013 update to its 2012 lane sharing survey (available on our resources page). The 2013 survey was again conducted by Ewald & Wasserman Research Consultants, using a similar methodology to the 2012 survey. The researchers surveyed a greater number of riders and drivers – 713 riders, compared to 560 in 2012, and 1,020 drivers, compared to 733 in 2012. Check out the first few pages of the survey below for the rest of the methodology – let’s get to the good stuff!

The study shows a slight increase in riders splitting on freeways:

“Do you lane-split on your motorcycle when riding on freeways?”
Frequency Percent 2013 Percent 2012 Difference
Yes 584 81.9% 77.6% +4.3%
No 129 18.1% 22.4% -4.3%

And more riders answered “How frequently do you lane-split on freeways?” with “always”:

“How frequently do you lane-split on freeways?”
Frequency Percent 2013 Percent 2012
Always 204 35.4% 30.9%
Often 177 17.9% 18.7%
Sometimes 103 30.7% 37.5%
Rarely 93 16.1% 12.9%

The number of women riders surveyed was small – at just 45 – but the women surveyed in 2013 split lanes a lot more than the women surveyed in 2012:

“Do you lane-split on your motorcycle when riding on freeways? (by gender)”
Percent 2013 Percent 2012
Male 82.0% 79.7%
Female 80.0% 48.6%

There’s some good news about riders being hit or nearly hit, too. Fewer riders reported being hit by vehicle, although the number riders hitting other vehicles increased a bit. Bad! But the overall “never been hit” percentage is up.

“Have you ever hit a vehicle or has a vehicle hit you while you were lane-splitting on a freeway?”
Percent 2013 Percent 2012
Yes, vehicle hit me 8.6% 11.8%
Yes, I hit vehicle 4.0% 3.2%
No, never 87.5% 85.0%

Of the riders who hit or were hit by a vehicle, the precent of “just hit a car mirror” reports increased from 34.6% to 46.2% in 2013. “Scraped/hit side of car” also increased from 7.4% to 11.5%. See the full breakdown of types of collisions in the full survey PDF below.

Fortunately, close calls decreased in 2013:

“Did you ever nearly hit a vehicle?”
Percent 2013 Percent 2012 Difference
Yes 34.4% 46.5% -12.1%
No 65.5% 53.5% +12.0%

There were some changes in lane splitting behavior on the freeway – more riders reported splitting in traffic up to 20 MPH and up to 40 MPH. The percentage of riders splitting in traffic up to 70 MPH more than doubled, increasing from 1.6% to 3.6%. Slow down, guys!

“What best describes your lane-splitting on freeways? Would you say you lane-split only when…?”
Percent 2013 Percent 2012
Traffic is at at standstill 15.6% 15.7%
Traffic is stop-and-go 21.5% 28.6%
Traffic is moving less than 20 MPH 25.2% 20.1%
Traffic is moving less than 30 MPH 14.8% 15.7%
Traffic is moving less than 40 MPH 8.2% 4.9%
Traffic is moving less than 50 MPH 4.5% 4.7%
Traffic is moving less than 60 MPH 2.8% 2.3%
Traffic is moving less than 70 MPH 3.6% 1.6%
Other 1.6% 0.7%
At all times 2.3% 5.6%

There were not a lot of changes in the answers to questions regarinding splitting on roads other than freeways. As with splitting on freeways, the number of close calls decreased – 76.7% of riders answered “Did you ever nearly hit a vehicle?” with no, compared to 70.3% in 2012.

In reported collissions, mirror hits off the freeway increased from 20% to 31.6% and a lot more riders were knocked down – 13.2% in 2013 versus 2.9% in 2012. However, the researches noted that even this seemingly large change was not statistically significant.

The survey contains extensive data on riders’ speed relative to surrounding traffic – see tables and notes starting on page 17. The researchers calculated average speed differential for road types as shown in the table below, and not surprisingly found that riders who split on freeways and roads tend to split more quickly.

Differential Speed Calculation
Lane-split on freeways & roads Lane-split on freeways only Lane-split on roads only Total
Differential speed in average MPH 12.32 10.93 7.56 11.55

One of the most common things riders complain about when talking about lane splitting is drivers not paying attention and not seeing motorcyclists. The most common complaint tallied up in this survey was “drivers not looking in mirror/drivers not seeing MCs” – reflective of this complain. The table below shows the breakdown of threats perceived by riders:

“In your opinion, what is the MOST serious threat to your safety when lane-splitting?”
Percent 2013 Percent 2012
Drivers not looking in mirror (not seeing MC) 33.1% 32.5%
Distracted drivers (cells or texting) 25.6% 30.0%
Other 13.3% 11.7%
Cars changing lanes 6.3% 10.1%
Aggressive drivers 12.0% 7.3%
Cars not signaling lane change 3.4% 2.3%
Cars not paying attention 0.0% 1.5%
Car’s open doors 1.8% 1.5%
Narrow lanes 1.5% 1.0%
Cars changing into carpool lane 0.0% 0.8%
Big trucks 1.6% 0.6%
Poor road surface 1.0% 0.4%
Drunk drivers 0.5% 0.2%

The researchers characterized the changes in the 2013 threat perception numbers as insignificant, saying “The small changes in the perception of most serious threat to motorcyclists between 2013 and 2012 are not significant.” One glaring issue here is that few riders perceive “big trucks” as a significant threat, while in reality the data shows these large vehicles as being positively murderous to lane splitters.

In summary – most of the changes in the rider data from 2012 to 2013 was characterized by researchers as not statistically significant.

Ok – so what about the drivers?

The question many riders have been asking is “Has all of the PR work the CHP and OTS have been doing made a difference in driver perception of lane splitting?”

My contact at OTS said “At the time of the survey (March/April 2013), there had been very little outreach to the public regarding the Lane Splitting General Guidelines, which had just been posted on CHP’s website on January 14, 2013,  OTS’ website on January 30 and DMV’s website on March 8th.  We hope to see more positive change when the survey is conducted again next Spring.”

The survey contains several tables detailing responses by number of days driven per week, age, and so on… but here’s the breakdown of how many drivers think it’s legal to split lanes on the freeway in California:

“Do you think it is legal for motorcycles to lane-split on freeways?”
Percent 2013 Percent 2012
Yes 55.5% 52.2%
No 35.6% 36.9%
Don’t know 9.0% 9.9%

The researchers characterized these small changes as statistically insignificant. Check out the tables starting on page 22 for more information on perceived legality by drivers.

There was a bit of a reduction in the number of driver-reported lane splitting accidents, although the number of observations is small.

“Have you ever hit a motorcycle or has a motorcycle hit you while driving on a freeway?”
Percent 2013 Percent 2012 Difference
Yes, MC hit me/my car & I hit motorcycle 3.0% 5.3% -2.3%
No, never 97.0% 94.7% +2.3%

Additionally, drivers reported slightly lower near-hit incidents:

“Were you ever nearly hit by a motorcycle?”
Percent 2013 Percent 2012 Difference
Yes 28.3% 34.6% -6.3%
No 71.7% 65.4% +6.3%

Researchers characterized this 6.3% drop as “slightly significant.”

Driver Approval and disapproval of lane splitting didn’t change much:

“How would rate your approval or disapproval of lane-splitting?”
Percent 2013 Percent 2012
Strongly approve 9.2% 8.3%
Somewhat approve 27.4% 28.3%
Somewhat disapprove 24.9% 26.1%
Strongly disapprove 38.5% 37.3%

Table V23 on page 29 breaks down driver reasons for approval/disapproval. The most significant reason for disapproval is “it is unsafe” at 57.5% followed by things like “it startles me” and “it might cause me (or others) to have an accident.” Surprisingly, complaints that seem common when lane splitting is mentioned in the media, such as “they ride too fast” and “it’s unfair” don’t carry much weight here. The tables beginning on page 30 display comprehensive breakdowns of perception of legality, approval/disapproval and regional opinions.

Another big deal for riders is drivers blocking riders who are lane splitting. This is explicitly mentioned as illegal in the CHP lane splitting guidelines but unfortunately there is not a significant change in drivers blocking riders.

“Have you ever tried preventing a motorcycle that was lane-splitting from passing you?”
Percent 2013 Percent 2012
Yes 6.4% 7.3%
No 93.6% 92.7%

As for why this small percentage of drivers do this, the “it’s unfair!” complaint shows up, with 11.6% of blocking drivers giving this as the reason they block lane splitters. 14.5% of blockers say they engage in this aggressive, dangerous behavior because lane splitting is unsafe. That’s right – these drivers think they should block riders with their car because lane splitting is unsafe. Similarly, 17.4% of blocking drivers said they try to prevent riders from lane splitting because lane splitting may cause them to have an accident. Cue head explosions here.

In summary there isn’t a lot of good news here – it’s mostly neutral, with not a lot of statistically significant changes in the data. As mentioned above, the official PR engines of the CHP, OTS and DMV were just getting going as this survey was being conducted – hopefully we’ll see more positive results in the 2014 survey. In the meantime, riders should read the entire study and work to be good ambassadors for lane splitting and motorcycling in general. Please share this study with riders and drivers alike!

Here’s the 2013 survey. If you can’t see the embed, click here to download the PDF.

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One comment on “2013 California Lane Sharing Survey Released by OTS
  1. Mark says:

    Lets do a test: ALL MOTORCYLE riders -Lets all ride our bikes to work and NOT lane split to test the Advantages that cars get when motorcyclist split lanes compared to Not splitting lanes. And make sure the LAWS keep cars back (give the motorcycle that is in He’s own lane Lots of space even if that means the car must come to a stop far away from the back to that motorcycle. —–

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  1. […] in general. Please share this study with riders and drivers alike! Thank you goes to Surj Gish at LaneSplittingIsLegal.com for the analysis of the 39 Page Downloadable PDF Study by the California Office of Traffic Safety. […]

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