OLYMPIA – A bill that would let motorcyclists pass between cars in traffic jams won approval in the state Senate Tuesday, reflecting a three-year effort by Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, to reduce traffic congestion and improve safety.
Senate Bill 5378 passed the Senate 32-17 and moves on to the state House of Representatives.
The bill launches a two-year pilot project on state highways, allowing motorcyclists to pass in the same lane as the vehicle being overtaken. Strict limits would be placed on speed. When passing, motorcyclists would be allowed to travel only 10 miles an hour faster than the flow of traffic, at a speed of no more than 25 miles an hour.
“Sensible passing rules have long been a concern for responsible motorcyclists,” Sheldon said. “When cars and trucks are stuck, motorcyclists find themselves in a vulnerable position.”
Sheldon noted that motorcyclists are frequently the victims of rear-end collisions, and their air-cooled engines tend to overheat in stop-and-go traffic. “Allowing them to move slowly between lanes will get them out of harm’s way, and give their bikes a chance to cool down,” he said.
California currently is the only state with a similar law on the books, but its lane-sharing rule allows higher speeds than Sheldon’s bill.
Sheldon has introduced bills in previous sessions that required motorcyclists to do their passing on the left-side median strip, but Sheldon said the motorcycling community raised safety concerns. The area to the left of the “fog line” is frequently strewn with debris that makes travel hazardous.
“This bill is really as much about safety as it is about traffic congestion,” Sheldon said. “It makes more room on the road for everyone.”