Motorcyclists can ride side by side

Published 11:37 am Monday, May 14, 2012

Billy Allmond and his wife, Millie, ride their Honda Gold Wing through Franklin. A new Virginia law will allow motorcyclists to ride side by side in one lane. GWEN ALBERS/TIDEWATER NEWS

FRANKLIN—As a cop and avid rider, Billy Allmond opposes a new law that will allow motorcyclists to ride side by side in a single driving lane.

“I think it’s much safer to ride in a staggered position than side by side,” said Billy Allmond, a deputy with the Southampton County Sheriff’s Office, who lives in Franklin.

“I’ve been riding bikes for 30 years,” the 68-year-old added. “There’s a chance to weave a bit and make contact when riding side by side.”

Gov. Bob McDonnell recently signed the legislation, which goes into effect on July 1.

Sponsored by Del. Tony Wilt, R-Harrisonburg, the law will allow two-wheeled motorcycles to drive alongside each other in one lane. Current law prohibits motorcyclists from doing that; violators may be charged with reckless driving.

Virginia will become the 49th state to accommodate two-abreast riding. Vermont remains the only state to prohibit the practice.

“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.

“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.”

Allmond said there is no way he will ride side-by-side with his Honda Gold Wing.

“You have no room if you have to make a quick maneuver to avoid a collision,” he said. “Two bikes can collide, plus there’s cars, deer or a dog that can run out in front of you. (Driving staggered) gives you wiggle room.”

Johnny Avent of Franklin agrees.

“I think (the old law) is a good law,” said the 70-year-old Harley Davidson rider.

A motorcyclist for most of his life and Verizon retiree, Avent fears the new law will results in riders colliding.

“Bikes could hit at the handle bars if a rider is not paying attention.”

Safety was a concern among lawmakers. 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.”