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Traffic Q&A: Are motorcyclists allowed to drive on the shoulder to avoid traffic jams?

Are motorcyclists allowed to pass on the shoulder when traffic is stopped or significantly slowed on freeways in Washington?
Are motorcyclists allowed to pass on the shoulder when traffic is stopped or significantly slowed on freeways in Washington? dmontesino@thenewstribune.com

Q: Are motorcyclists allowed to pass on the shoulder when traffic is stopped or significantly slowed on freeways in Washington? — Ray B., Tacoma

A: Oh, if they were, Ray, we might try to overcome our fear of riding on the two-wheeled contraptions, strictly so we’d have a fighting chance at beating traffic once in a while.

Alas, they are not.

This from Sgt. James Prouty of the Washington State Patrol:

“There was legislation introduced to allow motorcycles to drive on the shoulder during times when traffic is very congested or stopped. The legislation did not pass, and it is illegal to drive on the shoulder of the roadway. They can receive a ticket for driving on the shoulder which carries a $136 fine.”

The legislation Prouty referenced was Senate Bill 5623, which was introduced during the 2015 regular session.

As far as we can tell, the original intent of that bill was to modify Washington law to allow a practice known as “lane-splitting or lane-filtering,” that is to allow motorcyclists to drive between lanes of slow-moving or stopped traffic on roads with multiple lanes.

A motorcyclist could practice lane-splitting as long as he or she was not traveling more than 10 miles per hour over the speed of traffic flow and not faster than 25 mph.

Proponents of the bill said it would help traffic flow and be safer for motorcyclists, who, they contended, are more likely to be rear-ended in traffic jams.

Opponents said changing the law would require a “significant public education campaign” to alert drivers that the practice was now legal.

“The drivers of motor vehicles are not expecting this kind of activity,” according to the “con” argument in the bill report. “This will result in additional road rage incidents.”

The final bill, also known as the “second engrossed substitute,” went in a different direction altogether.

That version continued to outlaw lane-splitting but inserted language that allowed shoulder driving in some cases, to wit (deep breath):

“On the left-hand side of a vehicle traveling in the left-most lane of traffic on a numbered state route that is a divided highway having two or more lanes of traffic in each direction separated by a physical barrier or unpaved median if the operator of the motorcycle is traveling at a rate of speed no more than 10 miles per hour over the speed of traffic flow and not more than 25 miles per hour.”

Phew.

It also would have opened up shoulder driving to motorcycles where transit vehicles were allowed to drive on the shoulder.

But, as Prouty pointed out, the bill didn’t make it out of the Legislature, apparently stalling in the House.

Anyway, back to Ray.

“I was stopped awhile back, and the officer didn’t write me up but wasn’t very pleasant talking with me for riding in his lane (the shoulder),” Ray wrote to us here at Traffic Q&A headquarters. “He stated (it was) his only and nobody else is to be in his lane.”

That appears to be the case, Ray. Until further action of lawmakers, you’ll have to creep along with the rest of us.

Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644, @TNTAdam

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