I’m in Spain as I write this, after spending a few days in Los Angeles, and there are plenty of motorcyclists riding in both places. I’m envious of their warm weather, but more than that, I’m envious of their legal ability to filter through traffic.
We’ve written about this before, including here, where we took a look at the safety and practicality of lane filtering, and here, where we followed the progress of some other American states that were considering legalizing the practice. Until last year in California, the practice was in a grey area of neither legal nor illegal but tolerated, and the law was amended in the summer of 2016 to allow motorcyclists to pass other vehicles within the same lane.
It looks dangerous, and if it’s performed recklessly then it can be dangerous, but looks are deceiving. It’s generally considered much safer for a motorcycle to keep moving in traffic, reducing the likelihood of being hit from the rear, and it’s also safer for the bike to be positioned in the lane so the rider has an escape route if needed. In other words, don’t just sit there with the cars, trapped between all that rolling metal.
I lived in the U.K. for a few years and lane filtered every day, without incident. It’s expected, and cars keep to one side of the lane to let you pass – they don’t want to be scratched any more than you want to scratch them. A rider doesn’t overheat in the summer, nor block other traffic on the congested streets. My 40-kilometre commute into central London took 35 minutes if there was no traffic whatsoever and 45 minutes if the roads were jam-packed at rush hour.
I moved back to Canada and wrote a column about lane-filtering, for which I called up police departments and safe driving associations around the world. Nobody could tell me of any instances where a rider was injured or killed from filtering. I asked three successive Ontario Ministers of Transportation if the law might be changed to permit filtering – to encourage motorcycles instead of cars in the city and ease summer congestion – but was told every time it would never happen. It looks far too dangerous, apparently, and if just one life … well, you know the rest. It’s the easy excuse.
I even tried lane filtering in Toronto, and car drivers steered across the lane to block me. Some honked their horns; a couple opened their doors to make sure I did not pass. The theory, I guess, was that if they couldn’t make good progress than neither should I. After a while, I stopped, and finally I stopped riding my motorcycle into town altogether. What was the point? Like most riders, I already owned a car so I drove it on the commute back and forth, staying dry and drinking coffee and listening to the radio and clogging up the highway.
If you take a look at the comments on our stories about filtering, they all boil down to one sentiment: drivers in (insert your town/province here) are the worst in the world, and can never be educated to keep the roads safe for a motorcyclist sharing the lane to filter past. That’s strange, because I’ve driven in many parts of the world and live near Toronto, and Canadian drivers are generally pretty good. Certainly better than those in Los Angeles, and those here in Spain. Canada Moto Guide’s experienced readers generally support filtering, but take a Not In My Back Yard approach.
Being here in Spain reminds me how important it is for riders to fight for their rights, but the law will probably not change anywhere in Canada until, perhaps, autonomous cars take over and treat bikes with more consideration. It’s too bad that seems to be the best we can hope for. We’ll keep writing at CMG about filtering and pointing out the obvious and not-so-obvious, as we will about loud pipes and speed limits and other such contentious issues, because progress has to start somewhere, but it can be a bit like yelling into the wind. If you have a better idea for effecting actual change, please leave it in the comments below.