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Lane Filtering: For, Against, & Somewhere In-Between

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Lane filtering is a controversial topic amongst motorcyclists, motorists, and other road users. Filtering, otherwise known as lane splitting, is a practice that’s widely accepted in many countries around the globe but has never gained much traction in North America. Over the last few years, interest in changing filtering laws has grown but as that interest has grown, so has its opposition.

Before we jump in and examine the most enduring for-and-against arguments surrounding the filtering debate, let’s take a quick look at what lane filtering and lane splitting mean, and shed a bit of light on this often-misunderstood road maneuver.

What is lane filtering?​

motorcyclists lane filtering in traffic

Photo Credit: New Atlas

Lane filtering is the act of using the road space between vehicles. In countries that allow filtering, it’s described as a move that motorcyclists can employ to move through stationary traffic or traffic that is traveling at a very slow pace. Filtering doesn’t necessarily have to occur between two vehicles, it can also be used on the space on the outside edge of a lane.

Some authorities consider lane filtering and lane splitting to be two different things, with filtering being the term used to apply to motorcycles and cyclists riding between stationary cars to move into a better and safer position at the front of a traffic queue. Lane splitting is often used to describe the more dangerous act of riding a motorcycle between moving traffic, often at a higher speed.

Finding a standard definition is one of the main reasons why filtering is such a hot topic. To some, it’s a safe and practical way for motorcyclists to beat traffic and help ease congestion. To others, it’s a dangerous act that causes accidents and puts lives at risk. This difference of opinion has caused many a debate in recent years, especially as California made changes to its laws in 2016 that legalized the maneuver.

man riding motorcycle on side of road

Photo Credit: Quintin Gellar / Pexels

Currently, California is the only state in the U.S that permits lane-splitting. The success of the California bill prompted other states to consider their position on the subject and a number of others planned to follow suit. As of 2021, California still remains the only state to permit lane splitting, providing that the maneuver is executed in a safe and prudent manner.

Utah has its own rules on the matter. Filtering is legal in certain circumstances. Motorcyclists may filter between two-lanes of traffic when the surrounding traffic has come to a complete standstill.

There are other states—Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Delaware—that don’t have specific laws about whether the practice is legal or prohibited.

The rules are no clearer in Canada either. While it’s widely assumed the lane filtering is illegal, there are some regions with no set laws on the matter. For example, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation declares that lane filtering is “extremely dangerous” though the actual act has no specific law attached to it. That doesn’t make it legal, as you’ll be cited for dangerous driving. For all intents and purposes, lane filtering is illegal in Canada. Full stop.

In Europe, however, the act is tolerated, welcomed, and actively encouraged in many places.

So, with so many varying rules, why are some riders and road users for lane filtering, and why are so many against it? Here are some of the most popular arguments.

What are the arguments for lane filtering?​

It’s safer​


The most common argument in favor of lane filtering is the one that has the most evidence behind it. Statistically, it’s safer for motorcyclists to move through traffic queues. If left exposed, motorcyclists are more likely to be rear-ended. They’re less likely to be seen, so they’re more vulnerable. And unlike cars, there’s no protective metal cage surrounding the rider. A study from the University of California Berkeley suggests that riders who filter are safer.

It’s more efficient​

Motorcyclists lane filtering in Bangkok, Thailand

Roland Dobbins / Wikipedia

Filtering eases traffic congestion, and it’s not just in favor of motorcycle riders. Of course, motorcyclists can filter to the front of traffic queues and that saves time on their journey, but it also frees up space for other motorists.

A 2012 study from the Belgian city of Leuven agrees that filtering can make journeys easier for everyone. A quote from the study reads:

“If 10 percent of the cars on the road were replaced with motorcycles, congestion would drop by 40 percent, and if 25 percent of cars were replaced with motorcycles, congestion would disappear. The reason for this is that motorcycles take up less space in traffic, and the study assumes that at stoplights, motorcycles will filter between lanes to the front.”

In short: if motorcyclists are allowed to the front, everyone wins.

It’s more environmentally-friendly​


It’s hard to argue with the logic that a stationary vehicle is an inefficient vehicle. While stationary or moving a vehicle will still produce harmful emissions, however, creating emissions in exchange for no progress on a journey, at an efficiency rate of zero miles per gallon, is hardly doing the environment any favors.

It raises awareness​


By filtering, car drivers are more aware of the motorcyclists around them. While filtering may raise the ire of some drivers as a motorcyclist zips by their window in stationary traffic, it does keep motorists more aware of the presence of smaller vehicles on the roads. With more motorists looking out for each other, even if only to scowl in envy, it’s better and safer for everyone.

It makes for better motorcyclists​


Some motorcyclists will accept that filtering can be a difficult maneuver and does require sharp skills to easily navigate the narrow space between stationary and slow-moving vehicles. Filtering forces riders to brush-up on certain skills that are often lost after basic training courses. For example, slow speed control using the throttle, clutch, and rear brake, can often be neglected by riders. By giving motorcyclists more opportunities to test these skills on the roads, it makes them better and more skillful riders.

It’s not mandatory​


It can be intimidating but it’s not mandatory. In countries where filtering is legal, it’s completely optional. If you don’t want to filter, you don’t have to. If you deem that it’s unsafe, then you can simply sit in the queue as normal. There’s no pressure to filter and there never will be, which is why many filtering advocates demand a change in the law.

What are the arguments against lane filtering?​

Lanes are the way they are for a reason​


Many motorists against the idea of lane filtering have been quick to point out that lanes are a certain size for a reason: they are designed to safely accommodate the width of one vehicle. And that’s absolutely true. Lanes are designed with enough space for the average car, not a car and a motorcycle.

Counterpoint: Though roads weren’t designed with filtering in mind, there is ample space to be taken advantage of. Due to the abundance of space in North America, roads are often wider than they are in Europe. For example, the U.S Interstate Highway standards use a 12ft lane width. In Europe, the average lane width is between 8 to 10 ft. If it’s possible for European riders to safely navigate the space between lanes in a statistically smaller area, it should be more than possible for North American riders to do the same thing in a larger space.

American motorists aren’t accustomed to it​


Another popular argument against lane filtering is that motorists won’t expect to see riders appearing between lanes, as it’s something they’re not used to. This is true: motorists who aren’t accustomed to seeing moving motorcycle traffic in space between lanes will be caught off-guard, which could lead to accidents. The change of mindset could be slow and a large number of accidents could happen while the nation changes, and before riders can benefit from the fruits of a costly awareness campaign.

Counterpoint: While it’s absolutely true that teething problems will probably happen, there is no evidence to support that drivers will immediately cause accidents. Motorcyclists are already trained to assume that car drivers aren’t looking out for them, and to assume that everyone else on the road is an untrained lunatic, so this argument isn’t as strong as it appears.

It’s hard to police​

man riding motorcycle on city roads

Photo Credit: t4hlil / Pexels

Using California’s recent law change as an example, many motorists have suggested that the act of filtering is hard to police. As the law suggests that filtering is allowed if conducted in a “safe and prudent manner,” it is awfully subjective. What one rider may consider safe and prudent, a fellow motorist may disagree with. Different interpretations of the law could lead to conflicts and put road users in danger.

Counterpoint: This argument is a valid one, and without clear rules and boundaries it’s true that some motorcyclists may take unnecessary risks or stretch the limits of the law. Similarly, car drivers may also flex their rights, making filtering unnecessarily difficult to riders, and as the law is down to interpretation, it will be hard to police. Clear definitions must be drawn up to ensure that all road users can exercise their rights safely.

It’s hard to determine who’s at fault if an accident happens​


Similar to the point mentioned above, in the unlikely event that an accident occurs while filtering, it’s difficult for the authorities to accurately determine who is at fault without video evidence and reliable witnesses. And that’s what many road users, motorcyclists, and motorists alike, are most afraid of. In the event of an accident, who is liable? Who is at fault? And who owes damages to who?

More than one accident has arisen from lane filtering, and let’s not ignore that without societal buy-in, pressure and emotions from other drivers can be high. According to the lawyers at Abrahamson Uiterwyk – based in Tampa, FL – the waters get quite muddy in lane filtering accidents, and that’s especially true when an injury claim comes from it.

Who is liable if you…​

Damage another car while filtering?​


In a region where filtering is legal, a motorcyclist that accidentally hits and damages a stationary car would be liable to pay damages. However, if the car is purposefully obstructing the path of the motorcycle, it becomes a different story.

In regions where lane splitting is illegal, most law enforcement officers would have to place the fault squarely on the offending motorcyclist, citing them with a charge of reckless or dangerous driving.

However, this isn’t always the case. For example, Florida law follows a comparative fault model, which can place the blame and liability on a motorist under certain circumstances. A lane filtering rider may be practicing reckless riding, but if the accident was also caused due to a driver operating a vehicle while under the influence, a court may rule in favor of the motorcyclist.

Get into an accident while filtering?​


As you might have guessed from the above-mentioned scenario, working out who is liable in an accident situation isn’t black and white. Many factors may be taken into consideration when authorities are working out who is to blame.

In regions where lane filtering is legal, if the accident was caused due to the contribution of another vehicle (such as car switching lanes without looking, or pulling into the path of a filtering rider, or operating a mobile phone), then the other motorist will be liable. However, the courts will look for evidence that the motorcyclist was riding safely and within the boundaries of the law. Zooming through traffic carelessly at speed will put the fault squarely on the motorcyclist.

To help keep the law on your side, it’s always best to follow the law and practice safe riding. Courts and insurance adjusters are more likely to look favorably on motorcyclists who were witnessed filtering respectfully and riding carefully, who have experience and clean driving records, and those who have taken part in motorcycle safety courses.

Assigning liability in normal situations is already a difficult task, and with filtering thrown into the mix, it will make it harder. By riding within the law and being respectful of other road users, filtering may not be such a divisive topic for motorcyclists and other road users in the future.

The post Lane Filtering: For, Against, & Somewhere In-Between appeared first on webBikeWorld.

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670cc

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Lane filtering is a non-issue for me. If I see only one car go past in the last 10 minutes, I know I’m on the right road.
 

Alias

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I've done it in dead stopped traffic. My experience is that car drivers aren't as upset when you crawl past them as they are when you try to pull in in front of them at some point.
 

Griff

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For most of my motorcycling career I have been lane splitting especially when commuting. I did that either in slow moving/stalled traffic or even in moderately paced traffic. It is part and parcel of the advantages of owning a motorcycle especially to commute. However, more than any other time when using a motorcycle on the road, one needs to absolutely keep ones wits about them. The main downside is cars switching lanes. One needs to learn to anticipate that or the consequences can be disastrous. As such when lane splitting I was always on 110% alert. In this country it is not an issue for authorities as long as it is not conducted dangerously. However imho it is not something that inexperienced motorcyclists should do.

In short I am all for it especialy when commuting. If it was banned over here then one might as well get a car.
 

itsmenc700

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SO GLAD my commute and that of 95% of others in this town dont have the kind of heavy traffic that would call for me or others to have to filter lanes!
And yes its a big metro area - Minneapolis/St Paul.
SO glad !!!
 

halfSpinDoctor

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In WI, lane splitting (i.e. driving in-between lanes in moving traffic) is technically illegal. However on my ride home from work, when traffic is particularly bad, there is a route I can take where it is a 4-lane road (2 in each direction) with parked cars blocking the right lane, and here I will ride in that lane and "split" with stationary parked cars. That can easily save 10-15 minutes on what should be a 15-20 min drive without traffic, which is highly helpful.
 

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It’s an interesting lobbying (advocacy?) post. I disagree with writing laws so tightly that one (mistakenly?) believes there can be no judgment, but in general I would like to see both lane splitting and filtering legalized. As you can see, I consider those two as different.

A few years ago the State of Oregon attempted to pass such a law. They were having trouble deciding whether to try to start with filtering, and then try full splitting a year or few later, or the other way around. Their initial effort failed, and it was interesting to hear that resistance was fierce, but only from a very few people involved in the process (which means the legislature, the state police and DOT, and other executive branch and lobbying entities).

To me, that indicated that the general public, at least in Oregon, wasn’t particularly opposed to it. Rather, it appeared that the resistance was all from very narrow directions. I was sorry that such a small number of people could undermine and destroy the whole thing.
 

potter0o

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It’s an interesting lobbying (advocacy?) post. I disagree with writing laws so tightly that one (mistakenly?) believes there can be no judgment, but in general I would like to see both lane splitting and filtering legalized. As you can see, I consider those two as different.

A few years ago the State of Oregon attempted to pass such a law. They were having trouble deciding whether to try to start with filtering, and then try full splitting a year or few later, or the other way around. Their initial effort failed, and it was interesting to hear that resistance was fierce, but only from a very few people involved in the process (which means the legislature, the state police and DOT, and other executive branch and lobbying entities).

To me, that indicated that the general public, at least in Oregon, wasn’t particularly opposed to it. Rather, it appeared that the resistance was all from very narrow directions. I was sorry that such a small number of people could undermine and destroy the whole thing.
I used to live in a strata complex. I think the equivalent is an hoa in the US. Some things required 75% approval to change. It sounds good until you realize that the 25% really have the control.
 

mzflorida

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It's not generally the right strategy for me. There would be very few opportunities for splitting to prove substantially beneficial to me. That said, I would support it as long as riders demonstrated proficiency in the practice in a controlled setting.
 

dduelin

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It’s an interesting lobbying (advocacy?) post. I disagree with writing laws so tightly that one (mistakenly?) believes there can be no judgment, but in general I would like to see both lane splitting and filtering legalized. As you can see, I consider those two as different.

A few years ago the State of Oregon attempted to pass such a law. They were having trouble deciding whether to try to start with filtering, and then try full splitting a year or few later, or the other way around. Their initial effort failed, and it was interesting to hear that resistance was fierce, but only from a very few people involved in the process (which means the legislature, the state police and DOT, and other executive branch and lobbying entities).

To me, that indicated that the general public, at least in Oregon, wasn’t particularly opposed to it. Rather, it appeared that the resistance was all from very narrow directions. I was sorry that such a small number of people could undermine and destroy the whole thing.
I have experienced lane filtering and lane splitting legally while riding in CA and illegally elsewhere. In CA the process was entirely unremarkable. I guess motorists in cars and trucks are used to it and as long as speed differential is held to a reasonable amount (I think CA codifies this to 15 mph between motorcycle and other traffic) there is little risk to alert and engaged riders. In the other situations I mention there were long backups of traffic on interstates or in one instance a multilane urban artery with limited access and no intersections. Because these locations/states do not allow it and/or motorists were frustrated at being stopped or moving at less than 10 - 15 mph the reactions of some, a few, motorists were not as unremarkable. When filtering for miles down the interstate people could see me coming in the side mirror and ease over the dotted line as I approached to hinder or block the passage between lanes. Well, OK it's easy to slide over a lane and pass them on the other side. A few people would roll down the window and say something but by and large the vast majority of motorists did not say or do anything but watch you go by. You aren't preventing their movement and present no impact to their well being. Too bad a few people in influential positions can exert an inordinate amount of control over this practice.
 

MZ5

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I've had similar experiences.

In CA, it's an unremarkable thing. I've had exactly 1 motorist in CA clearly move over to block me, and another _possibly_ do so, but they were easily passed via other routes, and they totaled one or maybe two cars out of at least thousands (maybe tens of thousands?) I've encountered there on my m/c. Several motorists there, when they've seen me coming in their mirrors, have moved distinctly OUT of the way to make sure I've had plenty of room to pass.

In AZ, there are occasional motorcyclists who try to filter forward or just split, and there are motorists who respond in a very counterproductive (for everyone on the road) way. One I saw honked and flashed lights and swerved about, which caused other cars around them to swerve away from them and make trouble.

I don't think there would be an actual, real problem if splitting were legalized here. If there were a few isolated problems, I think they would go away rather quickly as people became accustomed to the practice. I do think how well and how quickly the adaptation occurred would depend a fair amount on how courteously the motorcyclists here employed the practice.

I struggle with what I believe is the misguided nanny-like desire to punish everyone for the few bad apples out there. Society can't run on the basis only of the worst of the lot, else no one would ever be able to do anything.
 
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