Shoulder Surfing: It’s a Start

Hawaii's legislature passes bill to allow alternative to lane splitting

You may have read recently that the state of Hawaii will soon be allowing motorcycles to use freeway shoulders to facilitate movement in heavy traffic conditions. It’s not perfect, but, hey, it’s a step in the right direction.

EVERY LITTLE HELPS: Become a Patron of The Motorcycle Obsession Today

House Bill 2589 was passed into law earlier this month in the Aloha State earlier this month. The law will go into effect on 1 January 2019, despite not having received the governor of Hawaii’s signature. If anyone is familiar with the intricacies of Hawaiian state law, please step forward now.

erupting lava during daytime
No one wants to be stuck in traffic when the lava’s flowing.

From what I understand, however, this technicality means that it will be up to the state’s Department of Transportation to decide when and where the practice will be allowed. You can read the full text of the bill here, but the short of it is that transportation officials will open up shoulders for two-wheeled use when traffic is otherwise stopped. Motorcyclists will then be allowed to putt along at no more than 10 mph until the aforementioned stopped lanes start moving again.

The application here strikes me as pretty limited but certainly it’s better than nothing. Although we here at TMO recently found out that lane splitting may not be illegal in as many places as we thought, it’s still the case that the only US state that officially allows motorcyclists to ride as they would pretty much everywhere else in the world is California.

It has always struck me as odd and stupid that a nation priding itself on freedom would restrict motorcyclists in this way, but it seems resistance to the practice has been lessening. A number of states – including Oregon, Washington, Nevada, and Texas – have seen bills introduced in recent years that would officially allow lane splitting. Those measures have failed for one reason or another (often due to lack of support from the entrenched old guard of America’s motorcycling community), but they show a change of mindset is in the works.


Hawaii’s half-answer to motorcyclists’ reasonable desire to avoid sitting in stop-start-look-at-your-phone traffic demonstrates that change. But, I’ll admit I have my concerns.

First and foremost, have you looked at the shoulder of a freeway recently? Littered with all kinds of detritus, from bits of truck tire to refrigerator doors, it’s not exactly the best riding environment. Secondly, there is the fact that shoulders exist as an area for cars to break down. Running motorcycles through such a space has the potential to create new problems.

Those are issues that can be dealt with, though. Certainly the idea of using the shoulder to alleviate congestion isn’t new. Here in the United Kingdom, a number of major routes have been reworked to become so-called smart motorways. At times of high traffic, the shoulder is opened up for use as a normal traffic lane. Highway officials communicate when these times are via road signs that seem to take literally forever to install. Highways England has been working on the stretch of M5 between Bristol and Birmingham for five years*.

And that all leads to another issue. Despite signage, folks often get confused about when they can and can’t use the shoulder. I’d suspect that a fair few motorcyclists in Hawaii will get confused, as well. Some intentionally – “Oh, uh, gee officer, I thought they were always open to bikes and that we were allowed to ride at 90” – but some genuinely.

Still, despite the potential for growing pains and a few gnashed teeth from selfish drivers who think commuting is a competition (“I wanna be first!”) this is definite progress for motorcyclists in the United States. Motorcycles are an untapped resource when it comes to commuting – especially in large swathes of the country that have year-round good riding weather. Yes, bikes require a person to step out of his or her air-conditioned multi-media giganto cage, and encouraging such a thing is a challenge in and of itself, but by making motorcycling more practically appealing the industry can do itself a lot of favors. Here’s hoping this idea catches on.

*Highways England ain’t got nothing on the Minnesota Department of Transportation. There’s a stretch of Interstate 35W from Burnsville to Minneapolis that has been under constant construction ever since my family first moved to Minnesota in 1988.