Opinion: The rules of lanesplitting

I grew up in the UK and rode there for two years before moving to Canada – it never occurred to me that lanesplitting should not be legal.

As such, however, I took it for granted. I was a fearless teenager, so I’d squeeze between traffic that I’d never consider today. One time, giving my aunt a ride on my Honda 250, I almost took her kneecaps off as we whizzed between vehicles and they skimmed the car doors. Another time, I booted it along the white line between a pair of trucks on the motorway that were already travelling at 100 km/h – one truck that didn’t expect me to be there started moving closer and things got worrisome, but I made it out the other side in one piece and never attempted something so stupid ever again.

My point is, as Zac shows us this week, that there are rules for lanesplitting that make the practice both safe and workable. Just like the rules of the road, if you follow these guidelines, you’ll probably be safer on your bike than waiting to be hit from behind, but if you don’t follow them, you put yourself and everyone else around you in danger.

The two most important rules, as recommended by the California Highway Patrol, are to never attempt to lanesplit if the speed of traffic is faster than 50 km/h, and to never ride at more than 16 km/h above the speed of traffic. These two guidelines allow enough reaction time for an alert and competent rider to take appropriate action if something unexpected occurs.

The fact is, some car drivers don’t want motorcycles buzzing beside them through traffic, because they don’t want their doors potentially scratched and they don’t want somebody else to make a quicker pace than them. We all know how frustrating congestion can be.

One of the major guidelines for all motorcyclists and scooterists who are squeezing between congested traffic is to be considerate.

Years later, I was riding again in the UK and came upon a traffic backlog that stretched more than five kilometres before ending at temporary traffic lights, installed for non-existent construction. I rode slowly and carefully past all the stop-and-go traffic, which probably took about 10 minutes, before stopping at the head of the line and waiting for the red light to turn green. I moved in front of a van at the front of the line. That van driver had probably taken an hour to get there, and when the light finally turned green, there was no way he was going to let a damn motorcycle get ahead of him.

When the light turned green, I rode off on the clear highway, but the van gunned it and tried to pass. I rode faster to get away, but the van also drove faster. I pulled to the side to let it overtake, and it shot past. After that, after passing any exceptional length of frustrating stopped traffic, I would always pause short of a few vehicles at the head of the queue, to not rub it in.

This is another of the basic rules of lanesplitting: be considerate. The CHP recommends the fours Rs of being reasonable, being respectful, being responsible, and being aware of road and traffic conditions. If motorcyclists practise these, then we just might be able to make splitting and filtering an acceptable practice for all road users. And if we can do that, we’ll all be a lot better off.

3 thoughts on “Opinion: The rules of lanesplitting”

  1. Lane Filter BC (LFBC) is advocating for the introduction of Lane Filtering (not Lane Splitting) in BC.
    There is a difference between the two. For example, in Australia Lane Filtering is Legal but Lane Splitting is not.
    Lane Filter and you will be ‘fine’, Lane Split and you will be ‘fined’.

    LFBC defines both manoeuvres as follows, but only advocates for Lane Filtering;

    *********************************************************

    MOTORCYCLE LANE FILTERING: Takes place on multi-lane highways when traffic is moving below 30kph – (which is the generally accepted speed when filtering in other countries and also happens to be the school zone speed in Canada) or if the traffic is totally stationary.
    Filtering should only take place between lines of vehicles and not on the hard shoulder or by crossing over solid lines.

    MOTORCYCLE LANE SPLITTING: Takes place on multi-lane highways when traffic is moving faster than 30kph and is a different traffic manoeuvre than Lane Filtering. For that reason evidence is almost impossible to find suggesting that Lane Splitting improves motorcycle safety.
    Lane Splitting takes place between lines of vehicles and not on the hard shoulder or by crossing over solid lines.

    WHEN LANE FILTERING – in stopped or slow moving traffic – under 30kph – aka school zone speed: Injuries sustained in an accident tend to be less severe because traffic is moving slowly and in the same direction, or is stationary at the time of impact. Any resulting injuries are generally caused by low speed glancing blows, as opposed to those experienced as a result of life altering high speed ‘T’ bone or rear end impacts.
    The same applies when a car changes lanes unexpectedly because, at less than 30kph (school zone speed), nothing happens that quickly and often there is time for a motorcyclist to react when a driver changes lanes without shoulder checking signalling at such slow speeds.
    In such a situation, if two vehicles do collide (at 30kph or less) the survivability rate for the rider is high, which is why often traffic is limited to 30kph in areas where there is a lot of pedestrian traffic, such a school zones. Any pedestrians, illegally crossing the highway between lanes of traffic, are also less likely to sustain severe injuries for the very same reason.

    The concise version is as follows:

    LANE FILTERING LEGAL (30kph or less) –> Rider filters.
    No longer legally required to be in the firing line.
    Can no longer be rear ended by distracted drivers whilst waiting in traffic.
    Rider gets to the front of the traffic line and is more easily seen by other drivers at a junction.
    Some riders receive minor injuries if involved in an accident.
    No Lives lost.
    Traffic congestion is reduced by removing motorcycles from traffic lines.
    Improvement in journey times for all vehicles – all road users benefit.

    LANE FILTERING ILLEGAL –> Rider does not filter.
    Required, by law, to remain in the firing line.
    Chances increased of being killed or seriously injured through being rear ended by a distracted driver.
    Chance increased of being ‘T’ boned at junctions through reduced visual profile of motorcycle.
    Some riders sustain serious life changing injuries.
    Some lives lives lost.
    Traffic congestion is not reduced because motorcycles remain in traffic queues.
    No improvement in journey times for all vehicles.

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