Canada needs lanesplitting — now

We were finishing up the KTM 1290 launch earlier this month, and we were in a hurry to get back to headquarters. We made good time heading down through the mountains, but by the time we reached the California freeway, it was too late. We hit gridlock, with cars backed up as far as you could see.

KTM’s ride guide edged between two cars. He looked back, as if to ask: Are you ready for this? We were, and the six of us split between slow-moving cars and filtered ahead at stops for the rest of the way to KTM’s HQ, cutting at least an hour off our return trip.

Nobody cut us off. In fact, a lot of cars moved over in their lanes to make room for us. And it was a great reminder: It’s time this was made legal in Canada.

The situation

It’s bizarre. Lane-splitting (riding between moving cars) and filtering (moving ahead between cars to the front, at stops) are legal almost everywhere in the world, even in Europe with its notoriously nanny-state governments. You can’t carry a proper pocketknife in the UK, but you can filter between cars with impunity, as long as you’re doing it responsibly. But for some reason, North America is terrified of the idea. In all 10 Canadian provinces and three territories, you’ll get a ticket if you ride your motorcycle between lanes of cars. Even in the US, where dozens of states allow motorcyclists to ride without helmets, 49 of 50 states don’t allow the practice.

But at least in the US, a lot of people are trying to make lanesplitting and filtering legal. Last year, there were efforts to legalize the practices in five US states (stories about it here and here).

Here in Canada? Nothing. A few motorcyclists out in BC have been making some noise, trying to get the provincial government to make the practice legal, but so far, there’s been no real concerted effort by any rider representation organizations, and certainly none by politicians, to make lanesplitting or filtering legal.

Why it should change

It’s simple: the current legislation against lane-splitting and filtering is dumb, and it’s holding us back—not just motorcyclists, but commuters in general.

In the past half-century, Canadians have increasingly moved to urban areas. More than 80 per cent of Canadians now live in urban areas, and that means transport systems designed decades ago are now overtaxed. Every time I fly into Pearson, I see long lines of commuters backed up on Toronto’s roadways, and Vancouver is even worse. Canada’s other major cities are the same. Even backwaters like Halifax have problems with gridlock.

Motorcycles can play a big part in reducing that gridlock. Take the 2012 study by Transportation and Mobility Leuven. In 2012, the Belgian researchers found that if 10 per cent of the cars on the road were replaced with motorcycles, congestion would drop by 40 per cent, and if 25 per cent 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. Translation: Filtering saves everybody time, not just motorcyclists.

Not only does lane-splitting play a role  in reducing traffic gridlock, it also makes motorcyclists safer. In a 2016 study, the University of California Berkeley investigated 5,969 crashes involving motorcyclists, including 997 riders who were lanesplitting when they crashed. The study found lane-splitting motorcyclists were less likely to suffer head, torso or extremity injuries, and also less likely to be killed in a crash.

Common sense says there’s one other good reason to allow motorcyclists to  filter ahead at stops — it greatly reduces the chance of being rear-ended at a red light.

How it should change

When California kinda-sorta-legalized lanesplitting, it left the state’s Highway Patrol to develop the guidelines. The police have since removed the information from their website, but it’s still available elsewhere if you have strong Google-Fu. In short, along with some best-practices recommendations, they wanted riders to restrict their speed while lanesplitting to a maximum of 10 mph (15 km/h) faster than cars, and to only lanesplit when traffic is moving at 30 mph (50 km/h) or less.

The majority of Canadians are not used to lanesplitting, so seeing bikes zip by while they’re stuck in traffic might result in road rage confrontations, and inattentive drivers would likely also be a danger, as cars are much more likely to obstruct lanesplitting riders if they haven’t seen the practice before. So here’s an easy solution: ease the practice in by first legalizing filtering at stops.

While splitting between moving cars might seem a bit dicey to some, every frustrated motorcyclist stuck in traffic knows it’d be super-easy and pretty safe to ride between cars to the front at a stoplight. The chances of a blue-haired granny cutting you off in her Buick are pretty low if she’s already at a standstill. After a few years of legalized filtering, it should be a lot easier to convince everyone that lanesplitting will work too.

Lanesplitting also needs a public makeover. For too long, it’s been portrayed as the practice of squids with more interest in popping wheelies than wearing proper gear. In reality, that same Berkeley study I mentioned earlier says lanesplitting riders were more likely to be wearing proper full-face helmets and were actually traveling at lower speeds than the other riders whose crashes were included in the study. Education will play a huge part in a smooth legalization process.

The public makeover is probably what needs to happen first, if we’re going to see lanesplitting or filtering in Canada, combined with pressure on provincial politicians.

Why it hasn’t changed (yet)

Because politicians hate the idea of trying anything outside the box. Because cars hate the idea of motorcyclists getting ahead in a line. Because nobody in Canada is pushing for it.  Because even some motorcyclists are vehemently opposed to the idea.

Those last two obstructions are the ones that really bug me. It’s possible there have been attempts by Canada’s larger riding organizations to promote filtering/lanesplitting, but if so, I haven’t heard of them. And that’s probably because there are some motorcyclists who don’t think Canada should legalize these practices. They usually say it’s because they don’t think it’s safe, to which I’d reply: then don’t do it. Just because these riders want to be stuck in traffic doesn’t mean the rest of us like it.

What’s next?

This summer, you can expect another string of stories about U.S. states considering lanesplitting legalization, but I doubt we’ll see anything in Canada. CMG will continue to tell people how it is, but we can only do so much. If you want to see change in your province, it’s up to you. Get together with your riding buddies, get organized, and talk to your local riding clubs, any riding organizations you belong to, and then go to the politicians. If we’re going to make this happen, it has to start somewhere.

30 thoughts on “Canada needs lanesplitting — now”

  1. Hey Mr. Z I haven’t read the complete article but I can tell you that riding 27 countries in Europe over a 7 month period only reaffirmed my experiences in California. Lane filtering when applied by a well informed brain, only makes sense. Unfortunately many of us will be living in a Martian condo before that becomes wide spread in North America.

    Case in point, after pulling into Athens late in the afternoon, looking for the famous Parthenon, I parked my Diversion on a sidewalk among hundreds of scooters and bikes (something else that should be encouraged) to inquire at a police station as to how I could find my tourist way there.

    I stopped because I spotted a police station and asked two uniformed coppers if there were ‘actual traffic laws’ given the propensity for two wheelers to pretty much do what they wanted to. By now, about 3 months into my adventure I had become quite adept at filtering.

    The officer riding the 900 Divvie said to me and I quote ” Yes yes… of course we have traffic laws…” To this his partner riding a Honda TransAlp V twin quickly added… “But just do what the other motos do, or we will be having to pick you up and take you to the hospital…”

    End quote

  2. Quebec province re-enforce the law about lane splitting/filtering in quebec this year, they realy want to ban it !

  3. They lane split in Europe so it’s a good idea? Guess what, there are many US states that don’t require helmets to be worn so does this make it a good idea? In 2016 a university in California found that 997 motorcyclists suffered a crash and injuries while lane splitting but since they had a lower death rate than other motorcycle crash victims this justifies allowing lane splitting? Sure, just add another 997 crashes to the county’s stats for motorcyclists, it’s a good idea. The article contains a lot more dumb reasoning but I can’t be bothered addressing all of it. Canada does not need lane splitting for impatient riders.

    1. If you can’t see the logic, I am afraid there’s nothing more to say. Nobody is prescribing lanesplitting as compulsory. If you’re on a motorcycle, nobody will make you do it, only open it up as an option. The only reasons for a car driver not to want it are an inability to see the benefit of shorter commutes, an anger over their own status as a traffic-bound motorist, or a fear that their driving skills aren’t sharp enough to perceive lanesplitters around them.

    2. I think lane splitting on our roads is suicide we have enough motorcycles getting hit and riding like a bunch of speed demons .I ride and I guarantee I will stay in my lane because auto drivers barely keep focused on the road and always texting and almost every day cars change lanes with no signals ya so let’s make it so we do a test run on lane splitting .how will you know its successfull after more people die .I see idiot motorcycle riders riding on the shoulder of the 401 I guess that would also be looked at .WHAT A JOKE .

      1. John, you need to see past your own opinion. There have been scientific studies, taking account all various biases, that have demonstrated that lane splitting is safer. It’s not because YOU feel lane-splitting is unsafe, or because YOU do not want to do it (nobody will force you to), that it is a bad thing for everyone else.

        Open your minds guys !

  4. Only a complete idiot would think ignoring lane markings is a safe thing….pathetic. It’s bad enough these idiots purposefully pick an unsafe-as-hell mode of transportation, while demanding that everyone else has to take extra precautions, they actually want to be able to legally ignore traffic laws now? These idiots need to be eliminated from the gene pool. And quit trying to say you want it because it’s safe, you’re just impatient a-holes.

    1. Explain how you can “legally ignore traffic laws.” Isn’t that an oxymoron? And speaking of impatience, doesn’t a transportation system that helps everyone get to their destination more quickly a sensible idea?

      1. Zac, I’ll be curious to see if there’s a response to your reply since when I read the comment from Mr. Garrity I was probably as taken aback as you were but then I thought maybe it was sarcasm/satire, although not very well executed, since this is a moto website after all. Now I’m not sure any more.

      2. The absence of motorcycles all together even would not put a dent in automobile traffic. Don’t kid yourself. Just impatient and trying to deny it. The only commutes shortened would be the riders. Trust me. The day you get to ignore pave markings will be the same day we can perpetually pass on shoulder’s on highways during traffic.

    2. Jim, being aggressive does not add anything to your claims.
      What is known for sure, is that lane splitting is safer for motocyclists.
      Why ? Because the actual idiots are the cagers around them, for one. They are so focused on their cellphones, the children behind, playing with the AC buttons and other crap, that they are a real hazard for themselves and others.

      Also, because there is absolutely no reason for a motocyclist to stay behind cars if there is sufficient space to move. It’s like requiring cars to stay in line despite sufficient available space around the lane, just because there are bigger trucks which wouldn’t be able to use this space.

      It is selfish and short sighted to demand that the motocyclists act like cars – because they are not cars.
      Just like cars are not trucks. And just like bicyclists are not cars.

      Open your eyes… and your mind

    3. Lane markings don’t preclude the ability to cross them, e.g., markings indicating passing is allowed. The lack of filtering is almost unique to North America. I have watched bikes filtering here in Japan since 1991 and have NEVER seen an accident between a filtering motorcycle and another vehicle.

      If you’re going to chirp about the lack of safety, it’s incumbent upon you to supply supporting data. Unfortunately, you won’t find such data in North America because no such studies have been done on any representative scale. One must look to the rest of the world and its safety stats to get an idea. And that worldwide data definitely confirms that in traffic where filtering is expected, rider safety is NOT compromised. Training of both riders and drivers are key.

      In Japan, low-speed control is tested to ridiculous degree for riders attempting to get licensed. A North American watching a Japanese motorcycle test might sneer at how over-the-top it is, but such an assessment falls on its arse the instant one realizes that motorcyclists filter here approaching literally every intersection they traverse.

    4. Mr. Garrity, I’m taken aback by your comment that people riding motorcycles are putting “demands” on motorists to be, dare I say, extra precautious. Are you saying motorcyclists are cramping your style and that without motorcyclists to get in the way, you and every other motorist would be free to drive with less caution or to drive haphazardly (i.e. the natural tendency of too many motorists)? As a motorcyclist, please accept my sincerest apologies for making such demands on you and your kind. If I could, I would gladly step aside and allow motorists like you to carry on like the roadways were an amusement ride so you could all play bumper cars with each other. With any luck, idiots such as yourself would be eliminated from the gene pool in short order. Then the rest of us could resume our daily commute to work under safer conditions.

      Are there idiot motorcyclists? Of course there are. In fact, there are idiots in every crowd and motorists are no exception, and you’re a stupid person if you believe otherwise.

      On the matter of safety, as someone who has been riding a motorcycle for 38 years, let me tell you there have been more than several occasions where I have avoided a collision (usually being rear ended by an inattentive motorist) simply by being agile and small enough to get out of harms way. Filtering and lane splitting would provide motorcyclists with an option. An option to get as far away from motorists like you. That, in my opinion, equates to safety.

  5. Lane splitting seems to be a very good idea in some parts of the world where motorcycles are legion, namely the big cities in Europe like London, Roma or Paris to name a few, or in Asia. In fact, I could not imagine Roma without scooters/motos, it would be just a nightmare. It already is.

    But here, in Canada, where the motos to autos ratio is probably something like 1 to 10 000, it would not make sense. Not here in Montreal at least, perhaps in the greater Toronto area, but still. I think that it would only trigger road rage from car drivers. Just look at the videos on YouTube, and you see a bunch of idiots on boths sides: you have motorcycles trying to make way where the space is inexistant, smashing mirrors; you see idiot car drivers driving on the white lines to block motorcyclists from going through traffic.

    Also, you have to take into account the condition of the road. Here, in the Montreal area, you have pothholes the size of our Olympic Stadium, you have cracks in between lanes. I can only imagine myself being thrown out onto a car next to me because my bike wheels fall into one of those hole. At the moment, I ride some 20m distance behind cars on highways not to be caught by one of those cracks, it is insane.

    I do not see lane splitting/filtering being legalised anytime soon.

  6. When I was in LA last winter, with a rental bike for a day, I split lanes. Seemed like the most natural thing in the world to me. I just took my cue from other motorcyclists doing it. I don’t know if I would have made it back to the EagleRider location in time if I hadn’t been able to split lanes.

    I’m not holding my breath waiting for it to come here. Too many politicians, safety nannies, and even a lot of motorcyclists are convinced that it is too dangerous. Or, in the absence of any proof that it’s dangerous, they insist on proof that it’s safe. Jeez, the way it’s going we’ll be lucky if we continue to have the right to ride motorcycles on public roads.

    1. See the UC Berkeley study. They proved that it is safer to lane-split than to stay stuck in traffic.
      And I don’t even mention the other studies that say that allowing line-splitting will reduce traffic, which should please all the environment-friendly people.

      Write to your DMV/traffic ministry, and write to your elected representatives, to demand that they allow lane-split, considering it saves lives and not allowing it worsens the annual death toll on the road, and use the UC Berkeley to back it. I just did it yesterday. It won’t make a difference, but if thousands do it, it will.

  7. I got stuck in a traffic jam on the 401 in Ontario. I was on my air cooled Suzuki 1500. Was was getting very hot so I pulled into bed to the shoulder and slowly moved to the front. There were cars trying to run me off the road so I didn’t get a head of them. I was just trying to keep some air flowing over the motor.

    This would be a major step forward for Canada. But it will never happen.
    In Canada if you drive less than the speed limit and hold up traffic. You are considered a SAFE DRIVER.
    Rob

    1. It will happen. we’ll just wait for the USA to fully embrace it. And once we’ll look dumb and retarded enough, we’ll start thinking of it.

      No wonder why we’re always behind. Including on safety like this.

    2. Well, as we would all love for lane splitting \ filtering to happen here in Canada, I just don’t see it coming anytime soon…. Possibly even in my lifetime.

      For those that say Canada takes a chapter from the US in terms of road rules, were simply not seeing this.

      A prime example of this would be HOV lanes. For pretty much everywhere in the world, a motorcycle can use HOV lanes with 1 rider. Mainly because there has been dozens of studies to prove that it drastically decreases the chances a motorcycle will be rear ended in a stop-and-go traffic scenario.This HOV riding is even legal in BC, Alberta, etc.

      In Ontario on the 400-Series highways, its strictly prohibited. If you ride solo in a HOV lane, you’ll get a ticket with points. The few times I have inquired, no one can say why, other than for “safety reasons” even though this is completely opposite to all the studies that have been conducted.

      In one letter i received back, the Ontario government had the audacity to say that most modern SUV’s are more fuel efficient than motorcycles, so fuel consumption was a moot point for motorcyclists. Although they couldn’t reference any actual studies on this. (Their bluff card didn’t work).

      To add insult to injury, in Ontario if you have an electric car, you CAN use the HOV lanes if your solo. How ridiculous is that?

      Lane Splitting is a long way off…….

  8. For some reason I can’t explain I’m mired in my own hypocrisy on this issue. On a bicycle, on the same city streets, I split lanes and move to the front “for my safety” when I come to a red light or stop sign, however the idea of this on one of my motorcycles terrifies me. I guess I’m just an enigma. 🙂

    1. This is exactly the reason why lane splitting is not legal. People are terrified of it, yet nobody has an actual explanation as to why. And when it gets legal, people figure out there was actually no reason to be worried, and that it’s better for everybody (less traffic, safer for the motorcycles, …)

      In Quebec they did exactly just what you said : they made it legal for bicycles, but specifically prohibited it for motorcycles. It makes no fu**** sense !

  9. I miss lane splitting. Started my motorcycle experience in South Africa with lane splitting and it was a sure and fast way to get around.
    But the problem is the drivers in Ontario and the lack of enforcement will mean more motorcycle fatalities. We first need to educate people and we’re doing badly now as most motorist will cut you off rather that stay in the own lane. A pity for motorcyclist but a reality we need to face.

  10. I’m sure the CMA is at the forefront of advocacy for this, given they are our liaison to the international oversight organization with that cosmopolitan view of the world of motorcycle regulation. Ahem.

  11. As always Canada is going to copy the USA. Somehow we’re just like a little dog that follows its daddy.
    When lane-splitting will be legal in most of the USA, maybe our little chiefs in charge are going to start thinking about it.
    For once could we be ahead and follow the scientific evidence ? Or am I dreaming ?

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