New law lets motorcyclists ride side by side

Motorcyclists are eager to legally burn rubber side by side now that Gov. Bob McDonnell has signed legislation permitting them to ride two abreast in a single driving lane in Virginia.

House Bill 97, sponsored by Delegate Tony Wilt of Harrisonburg, allows two-wheeled motorcycles to drive alongside each other in one lane. Current state law prohibits motorcyclists from doing that; violators may be charged with reckless driving.

HB 97, which McDonnell signed into law on Feb. 28, will take effect July 1.

“The bill allows riders to use their own judgment in determining when it is appropriate to ride beside someone, but does not require them to do so,” said Wilt, a Republican who has served in the House since 2010.

“One goal is to eliminate the harsh punishment placed on riders for doing something as innocent as pulling aside another rider while stopped or taking off together after being stopped.”

The American Motorcycle Association frequently hears complaints from out-of-state riders about Virginia’s prohibition against two-abreast riding.

“When our members and even non-members have ridden in Virginia, some of them have received citations for riding side by side at some of the major events that occur in Virginia,” said Imre Szauter, the association’s government relations manager.

“Where they come from, it is perfectly legal to do so.”

It’s perfectly legal almost everywhere. Virginia will become the 49th state to accommodate two-abreast riding. Vermont remains the only state to prohibit the practice.

“Riding two abreast is already allowed in 48 of the 50 states,” Wilt noted. “In 2010, the Virginia General Assembly extended this privilege to law enforcement officers on duty. I saw no reason why it should not be extended to everyone.”

HB 97 was approved 87-10 in the House of Delegates and 38-2 in the Senate in mid-February.

Safety was a concern. Opponents believe side by side riding is dangerous, especially if riders must suddenly swerve to avoid a road hazard.

However, no one has come up with data to prove that two-abreast riding causes an increase in traffic accidents or injuries, Szauter said.

“In the absence of statistics that indicate this is blatantly unsafe, it’s just another reason to somehow harass motorcyclists for something they don’t believe is an issue,” Szauter said.

“If there are circumstances where riding side by side is appropriate, and it can be done in a safe manner, we believe that the code should be modified. And that’s exactly what happened with this legislation.”

When riding side by side, it’s vital for motorcycle operators to communicate. Some riders use predetermined hand signals. Motorcyclists may need to speak to each other in advance to determine their plan of action.

A benefit of riding side by side is that motorcyclists also can signal each other on the road.

“It is often helpful for riders to be able to pull beside each other to communicate information – for instance, if they need to stop,” Wilt said. “This legislation allows them to do so.”
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