Sheldon bill enables motorcyclists to reduce congestion

Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch.

Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch.

OLYMPIA – State Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, is calling on the House to pass a bill that makes it easier for motorcyclists to get around stalled and slow-moving vehicles, and speed the flow of traffic.

Senate Bill 5623, which passed the Senate Friday 34-15, refines an idea Sheldon has been pushing for years – when cars and trucks are stuck, motorcyclists should be allowed greater freedom of movement on Washington highways.

The bill allows motorcyclists to pass to the left of left-lane traffic on divided highways. Motorcyclists could travel no more than 10 mph faster than the general flow of traffic, and could not exceed 25 mph.

An amendment adopted on the Senate floor Friday also allows motorcyclists to travel in the left-hand shoulder of divided highways during peak traffic periods, whenever buses and other public-transit vehicles are extended the same privilege. The provision is aimed at speeding traffic along Interstate 405, where the state’s troubled toll-lane experiment has turned rush hour into a slow-motion nightmare.

“For years I have argued that we could reduce congestion and improve safety by giving motorcyclists greater freedom on our highways,” Sheldon said. “But I think the meltdown on the 405 has made it imperative that we do something.”

Sheldon observed that stop-and-go traffic is a greater hazard for motorcycles because they use air-cooled engines. That increases the chances they will overheat when they are forced to idle for long periods of time amid stalled cars and trucks. The worse the traffic gets, the more likely breakdowns become. Sheldon cautioned that in its present form, the bill does not permit “lane-splitting” between cars, as is permitted in the state of California, nor should it be seen as blanket permission for shoulder riding.

“This bill is a creative solution to traffic congestion, and a way to improve safety on our public roads,” Sheldon said. “Motorcyclists are at a much greater risk of injury in a rear-end accident, and the chances of an accident increase in the sort of stop-and-go traffic we have been experiencing lately. If we give motorcyclists the freedom to pass on the left of a divided highway, they’ll be able to get out the way, and the road will be that much clearer.

“I hope my colleagues in the House will recognize this bill benefits not just motorcyclists, but all motorists, whether their vehicle rides on two wheels, four or 18.”