Sheldon bill lets motorcyclists cross the line

State Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch.

State Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch.

OLYMPIA… The Washington Senate voted March 5 to let motorcyclists cross the line – in the passing lane, anyway.

Senate Bill 5623, sponsored by state Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, cleared the Senate on a 35-14 vote. After major amendments on the Senate floor, it would allow motorcyclists to pass slow-moving traffic on the pavement to the left of a divided highway. The measure reduces the chance of rear-end accidents and breakdowns in traffic, and helps relieves traffic congestion, he said.

“It’s an example of how we can take a proposal, shape it and change it, and come up with an even better idea,” Sheldon said.

Originally the bill would have allowed “stripe-riding” or “lane-blending,” a practice permitted in many foreign countries and the state of California, in which motorcyclists are allowed to ride between stopped or slowed cars in traffic lanes. The practice speeds the flow of traffic. But Sheldon went back to the drawing board when colleagues objected that the unaccustomed appearance of a motorcycle between cars on a highway might startle drivers.

Under the new plan, motorcyclists would be allowed to pass only in the shoulder area in the center of divided highways – an area generally marked with a painted line. Motorcyclists would be able to pass only when traffic is moving at 25 miles an hour or less, and motorcyclists could travel no more than 10 mph faster than the general flow of traffic. Sheldon noted that the rule applies only to highways and not to city streets.

Sheldon said the measure allows motorcyclists to move to the far left side of a highway to avoid being rear-ended when traffic slows or comes to a complete standstill. They then could proceed around the traffic blockage at a cautious speed. It also reduces the chance that motorcycles, with their air-cooled engines, will overheat and break down while idling in traffic.

“Motorists as a whole really ought to see this as a no-cost way to relieve traffic congestion,” Sheldon said. “When motorcycles can move to the side and avoid traffic jams, there will be that many fewer vehicles in the traffic lanes – and the rest of the public will be able to get home faster.”