SALT LAKE CITY — Motorists will have an extra reason to watch out for motorcycle riders now that Utah has legalized lane filtering for motorcyclists. The law in Utah will only allow the maneuvering where posted speeds are 45 m.p.h. or less and automobile traffic is completely stopped. HB 149 also limits motorcyclists to 15 miles per hour while navigating stopped traffic. A similar law was passed and enacted in California, and according to Road and Track magazine, 2017 saw a 30-percent drop in motorcyclist fatalities.
Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Nick Street says the difference in the laws passed in California and Utah is that lane splitting in California can occur at freeway speeds and while other traffic is moving. However, in Utah, lane filtering can occur only on roads with 45 mile-per-hour speed limits or less, and vehicle traffic must be stopped.
“When cars are stopped motorcyclists can filter to the front on a red light or they can filter through traffic around a crash when cars are stopped behind it, but they can only do it in Utah when cars are stopped. Once cars are moving again it is illegal for motorcyclists to continue, and they must then get back in line with the rest of vehicle traffic,” says Street.
He says lane filtering would only be allowed on roads with two or more lanes in either direction, which would exclude some streets in, for example, downtown Salt Lake City, where multiple lanes are restricted to bicycles and street parking, leaving only one through lane for vehicles.
Sgt. Street says there were 1,288 motorcyclists rear-ended in the state of Utah from 2011 to 2017. He says the problem with even minor rear-end collisions involving motorcyclists is that there are usually injuries or even fatalities as a result.
“We see rear-end crashes all the time with cars and sometimes it’s just cosmetic, sometimes you just take it to a body shop. When you rear-end a motorcycle, there’s typically gonna be an injury involved – if not a fatality, depending on the speed. As a motorcyclist myself, I like the idea that I can get off that ‘X’ of danger. So I’m stuck behind cars, I don’t like this, or I have a car approaching really fast from the rear, and I’m behind another car, I’m limited as to what I can do. If I can filter to the center of the lane, I put myself away from that position, I am making myself safer as a motorcyclist,” says Street.
Street says it is up to motorcyclists to exercise caution in areas where lanes may not be as wide, or on bikes that may have wider handlebars or wide saddlebags, making maneuvering a little trickier. He also hopes riders will remember that excessively loud motorcycles may make drivers nervous as they pass.
The law takes effect on May 14th. It automatically expires on July 1, 2022. If, for example, it turns out the law does more harm than good, lawmakers may simply allow the law to die and lane filtering would again become illegal.