The Lane-splitter’s Guide to Cars

This is me on my scooter, with the helmet that makes me feel like a ninja. I am very sad to report that the shoes I was wearing in this picture were totally ruined a few months later in my first (and hopefully last) scooter accident (not my fault, and it had nothing to do with lane-splitting).

When people find out I ride a scooter, they usually ask me one of two things depending on where they’re from.  If they’re from anywhere outside of California, they ask if I wear a helmet (the answer to that is yes, of course – I’m very attached to my brain and skull).  If they’re from California, they ask if I lane split, or as most people say, “do that crazy thing where you drive between cars in traffic.”  California happens to be the only US state that I’m aware of where this is legal.  The answer to that question is yes as well.  If it’s done safely, I don’t see anything wrong with it. I know it really annoys some people that I essentially get to cut in line by riding past them while they have to sit there in the absolute misery that is LA traffic.  Having driven around LA in a car too, I can agree that I’ve felt a tinge of jealousy as a motorcycle whizzed by me where I’d been sitting on the freeway in the exact same spot for five minutes. But I figure, if you don’t like traffic, then you’re welcome to get a scooter or motorcycle too, and do the same as me!  (And frankly, cars do a lot of stuff that annoys me too, but I don’t freak out over it like some car drivers appear to do when I pass them on my scooter.)

I do, however, try to be polite about getting in front of people at a red light.  Once I get through a line of stopped cars waiting at the intersection, I either get in front of the car at the front of the line or slide in right behind it.  I usually go in front of it, and nine times out of ten, I’ll be through the intersection before the car driver even gets his or her foot on the gas pedal.  Of course that one time out of ten that the car actually wants to go faster than me, I feel bad about it and try to get out of their way as quickly as possible.

One of the ways that I try to avoid annoying drivers in this way is to try to decide if the car at the front is likely to want to go fast or not.  Here are some general rules I follow*:

  • Porsche: you drive a very expensive car, but you are either 80 years old or drive like you are 80 years old.  I will go in front of you.
  • BMW, Mercedes, or Audi: your car is lovely and you know it.  You will run me down, if necessary, to get past me in order to show how superior your fantastic German engine is to my 150cc Chinese scooter (and I freely admit I agree with you).  I will stay behind you.  However, I will later pass you when your outrage at my audacity has worn off and you go back to driving normally.
  • any sort of unusual or incredibly awesome car (Maserati, Lambo, Aston Martin, etc): it’s 50/50 whether you’ll actually know how to drive the thing properly, but I will stay behind you out of respect to the incredible machine you’ve got there, and also to ogle it.
  • Prius: it takes you approximately one year to go from 0 to 60. I will go in front of you.
  • open-top Hollywood van tour: I have often questioned whether it’s actually legal for you to drive 1 mile per hour down Santa Monica Boulevard in the midst of rush hour traffic.  I will go in front of you at all costs, even if I have to break minor traffic laws to do so.
  • student driver: this one’s 50/50 too.  I figure they ought to learn what it’s like to have motorcycles around them, as they’re definitely going to have to get used to that if they want to drive in LA.  On the other hand, I remember my own driving school experiences and how I had absolutely zero ability to judge the distance between my car and anything else on or near the road, like other cars, the curb, etc.  I prefer not to get hit by cars, so I will usually stay behind.
  • anyone with out-of-state plates: you do probably live in LA, but since there’s the possibility you may be a tourist, I will go in front of you.  I like to imagine this gives tourists stories to tell back home where this kind of thing doesn’t happen.  Even when you know it’s something that goes on here, it can still be kind of startling, I know, for a motorcycle to go whizzing past your window.  For a tourist who doesn’t know about this, I’m sure it must scare the crap out of them at first.
  • any car with loud music and bass: you seem like you will probably drive fast and/or have anger management issues.  I will go stay behind you.
  • pretty much anything else: I will go in front of you.

So there you go.  Don’t be offended if I said I’d get in front of you – my scooter weighs much, much less than your car, so even though its engine isn’t as powerful, the ratio of power to weight is in my favor.  It takes either a pretty good car or a very determined driver to beat me off the line.

* Of course this is all meant in fun – I’m definitely not promoting the practice of stereotyping people.

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