Motorcyclists could drive between lanes of traffic in certain conditions under a bill scheduled for a vote Wednesday in the Oregon Senate.
Called “lane splitting” or “lane filtering,” the idea is to give motorcycles the ability to slip between slow or stopped vehicles.
Senate Bill 574, sponsored by a bipartisan group of urban and rural lawmakers, lays out some very specific requirements. First, it can only happen on roads with two or more lanes of traffic heading in the same direction. Surrounding traffic has to be traveling at ten miles per hour or slower before the motorcyclist can move between the lanes.
While riding between the slow or stopped traffic, motorcyclists could go up to ten miles per hour faster than surrounding vehicles. Once traffic speeds up to at least ten miles per hour, the cyclist would have to merge back into a regular lane.
Lane splitting would only be allowed on highways with a speed limit of 50 miles per hour or greater. That means most surface streets in the Portland metro area would not qualify, but freeways such as U.S. 26, Interstate 5 and Interstate 84 would.
This isn’t the first time the concept has come before lawmakers. In 2017 and 2019, the proposal failed to make it out of committee. Many of the lawmakers sponsoring Senate Bill 574 this year also sponsored the previous versions. The scheduled vote in the full Senate this week marks the proposal’s most significant advance in recent years.
Unlike some previous versions of the bill, Senate Bill 574 would not allow motorcyclists to use either the left or right shoulders of the highway to advance through slowed or stopped traffic.
Lane splitting has been legal in California for many years. Utah and Montana have legalized it more recently, although the exact parameters differ somewhat from state to state.
“I’m not a motorcyclist myself,” said one of the bill’s chief sponsors, Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland. “But I am interested in motorcycles being one of the tools that we can use to reduce congestion and reduce reliance on single-occupancy cars.”
Hundreds of people submitted testimony in favor of the bill. Many motorcyclists said they feel vulnerable when sitting at the end of a line of stopped traffic. Being able to move ahead through the backup would make them less vulnerable to rear-end collisions, they argue.
But not everyone on the road is a fan of the idea.
“Motorcycles, when they split lanes, often pass on the right-hand side of a heavy truck, without realizing the blind spot that exists for a truck driver,” said Jana Jarvis, president of the Oregon Trucking Association. “They are simply not visible.”
Jarvis said if a truck is moving to the right in slowed traffic to get around an accident or lane closure, they would have little chance of seeing a motorcycle driving just inches away from its right side. “The consequences would be severe for a motorcyclist, and life-impacting for the driver of the truck,” she said.