SALT LAKE CITY — Utah motorists need to "start seeing motorcycles," as the bumper sticker urges, because they soon may be traveling between lanes.
The state Legislature is considering a bill that would allow motorcyclists to travel between lanes of traffic on Utah roads in certain situations.
HB410 would permit lane splitting — passing a vehicle moving the same direction in the same lane — when motorcyclists determine they can safely make the move without exceeding 40 mph.
Motorcyclists' safety and Utah's lax helmet laws became quick topics of concern when the bill was presented Tuesday to the House Transportation Committee. The panel of lawmakers ultimately voted 7-2 to advance the bill to the full House for consideration.
Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, the bill's sponsor, called on physical therapist and motorcyclist Dave Moss to help present the bill and answer many of the questions from the committee.
Moss said several studies from around the world have concluded that riding between lanes is actually safer than riding within slow-moving or stopped traffic.
"The primary problem with getting lane splitting passed in states is that non-motorcyclists think that it is dangerous," Moss said. "Motorcycles are seven times more likely to be hit while stopped, compared to crashing while lane splitting."
And crashes that do occur with lane splitting often are less serious, he said.
Moss also said lane splitting would lead to greater motorcycle commuting, which reduces traffic congestion, cuts down on vehicle emissions, and causes less wear and tear on roadways.
Riding laws under the proposal would be similar to those in California, where lane splitting is permitted, Froerer said.
That wasn't a selling point for Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy.
"I have driven on those L.A. freeways, and it freaks me out," Spendlove said.
Moss said claims that motorcycles would be whizzing by are not accurate, as the bill only allows them to pass at a speed 10 mph faster than surrounding traffic.
Mixed review from AAA
AAA Utah spokeswoman Rolayne Fairclough offered a mixed review of the bill's handling of safety and liability.
"I was surprised … that there was a slight increase in the safety of the motorcyclist," Fairclough said of the studies shared during the presentation.
But Fairclough said she was concerned that those studies were conducted in states and countries with universal helmet laws for riders. She suggested that wearing a helmet might skew the data and not apply in Utah, where helmet laws are more relaxed.
"The other thing … was liability, and how very difficult it is to determine liability," Fairclough said.
Maj. Mark Zesiger, assistant superintendent of the Utah Highway Patrol, also had concerns with the bill.
"Right now if you have a crash, the person that is usually at fault is the one that leaves their lane," Zesiger said. "If you have got motorcycles coming up between, you are losing control of that lane."
Before lane splitting is allowed in Utah, the UHP would like to see the public educated about how it works and address safety concerns, he said.
"I don't think there is any question we would need some type of education along with our current marketing," Froerer said. "We would have to do some extensive publicity, letting people know that this is now legal."
Rep. Justin Fawson, R-North Ogden, praised the presentation of the bill and data provided during the discussion.
"I think often we make gut decisions instead of basing our decisions on facts and statistics," Fawson said. "Originally I would have been opposed to the bill without that information."
Froerer noted that the Legislature concludes March 9, leaving little time for the bill to be considered in both the House and Senate.
"We still have some work to do on this," he said. "I think this is worthy of some discussion on the floor."