PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Earlier this month, Oregon lawmakers passed a bill that would allow motorcyclists to drive between slow or stopped traffic.
However, despite bipartisan approval and hundreds of letters of written testimony — overwhelmingly in favor of the “lane splitting” legislation — Gov. Kate Brown this week vetoed the measure, citing public safety concerns.
“I have several concerns with the bill as currently drafted, particularly related to public safety and noncompliance,” Brown said in a Wednesday letter to the state Senate president and House speaker, which was obtained by Oregon Public Broadcasting.
Senate Bill 574 would have permitted motorcyclists to drive between lanes, on multilane highways, when traffic slowed to 10 mph (16 kph) or less — also known as “lane splitting” or “lane filtering.” In this situation, motorcyclists riding between cars could travel no more than 10 mph faster than the flow of traffic.
States like California and Utah have enacted similar laws.
While this idea concerned some drivers, motorcyclists argued lane splitting actually improves safety.
“Perhaps one of the more dangerous situations for any on-highway motorcyclist is being caught in congested traffic, where stop-and-go vehicles, distracted and inattentive vehicle operators and environmental conditions pose an increased risk of physical contact with another vehicle or hazard,” Nicholas Haris, a representative for the American Motorcyclist Association, said in written testimony. “Even minor contact under such conditions can be disastrous for motorcyclists.”
According to the Oregon Department of Transportation, in 2018, the most recent data available, there were 78 deadly motorcycle crashes in the state.
“I have witnessed — during rolling traffic slowdowns on the Southern California freeway — motorcyclists cautiously, slowly and effectively moving through traffic and eliminating themselves from the traffic backup,” Kate Stoller, an Oregon motorcyclist, said in written testimony.
In Utah, legislation passed in 2019 allows for lane filtering. Prior to the law, in 2018 the state had 28 fatalities involving motorcyclists. The following year it reported 18.
Proposals to allow lane splitting have been introduced repeatedly in Oregon but stalled in the Legislature. This year the bill had a bipartisan group of sponsors from both chambers. In the House the bill passed 42-14, and in the Senate it passed 18-6.
But some disagreed that the bill would make roads safer — the latest being Oregon’s governor.
“Many stakeholders, including law enforcement agencies and members of the public remain concerned that lane filtering is unsafe for both the motorcyclists and the drivers sharing the road, due to the serious injuries and death that commonly result from motorcycle-involved accidents,” Brown wrote.
“Based on these concerns, I am returning SB 574 unsigned and disapproved,” the governor wrote.
A legislative override of her veto would require a two-thirds vote in each chamber.
Cline is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local news