White line fever

Now I’m the editor, let me slam my fist against the desk and yell at the government bureaucrat standing opposite. “Show me the research you’re talking about!” I shout. “Prove you’re not an idiot!” And the bureaucrat just shrugs. “It looks like it’s dangerous,” he or she says. “Just one life saved is worth all the legislation. Live with it. Literally.”

The bureaucrat could be anyone from a low-level advisor to the deputy minister of transportation. I’ve asked the question of three provincial ministers now, though none of the current politicians: Will you consider allowing motorcycles to filter between lanes – to speed their rider’s journey, make their bikes safer, and relieve traffic congestion? And I always got the dismissive half-smile and shake of the head. There are far more important matters on the table, after all, so nothing was going to change under their watch.

Lots of space between these vehicles, but is that a right turn signal or a brake light flashing on the minivan? Better hold back for a bit.

In heavy traffic, some motorcycle and moped drivers try “lane splitting” by driving on the line between lanes of traffic. This is extremely dangerous. Do not do it,” says the Ontario government’s official motorcycles handbook. “It puts you too close to other vehicles. Other drivers do not expect a vehicle to be in that space. Just a small movement, such as a vehicle starting to change lanes or a door opening, can cause a collision because there is no place else for you to go.

It’s frustrating. Just about every jurisdiction outside Canada and the United States recognizes the benefits of lane-filtering and allows it. California allows it, and has research to show it’s safer than being stuck in traffic, but nowhere else in North America permits it. Washington and Oregon  considered it, and B.C. thought about it, but the bureaucrats won the day. The progressive Australian governments of New South Wales and Queensland recently changed the law to allow it. So why the dismissive shrug here?

I’m slamming my fist against the desk because I’ve just come back from France, where motorcyclists routinely filter through congested traffic, with no issues and little added danger. There’s not a single study I’ve seen that shows filtering to be more dangerous overall. In those few cases where motorcyclists have been knocked off their bikes while filtering, they’re not usually seriously hurt. I returned via a stop in San Francisco, and it’s the same there. “I don’t even think about it,” said my airport driver, a retired deputy sheriff. “They ride between lanes and get where they’re going, and I just watch for bikes before I change lanes. I’ve never seen an accident because of it.”

There are guidelines in California, set down by the highway patrol. The two biggies are to ride at no more than 10 mph over the speed of traffic – you know that’s 16 km/h, right? – and to not lane-split when the speed of traffic is more than 30 mph. The CHP wants you to be reasonable, responsible, respectful, and aware of what’s happening in the roadway. Well, duh. Sounds smart to me. The law itself, tabled last year to allow lane-splitting everywhere in the state, is more liberal, allowing bikes to ride at 15 mph over the speed of traffic and not exceed 50 mph.

Motorcycle lane splitting is legal in california
Helmet, check. Jacket, check. Gloves, probably check. Pants, sort-of-check. Boots – oh dear.

(Under “respectful”, the CHP guidelines say: “don’t rely on loud pipes to keep you safe, loud pipes often startle people and poison the attitude of car drivers toward motorcyclists.” Couldn’t agree more, but that’s a fist-thump for another day.)

I’m an advocate of lane-filtering because I used to live in London, England, and did it all the time with no issues. I lived outside the city and worked in Camden, and if there was no traffic, it would take just over half-an-hour to drive or ride the 40-kilometre commute. If there was traffic, the trip in the car would take more than two hours, but on the bike, it added only 10 minutes. My GS550 was pretty crappy, but it did the job and meant I chose two wheels over four every time. In fact, in London, motorbikes are allowed to use the bus lanes provided they yield to buses, which is probably a good idea for everyone.

British roads aren’t always this spacious, or this dry, but it’s clear pavement all the way for this rider.

(Another aside. Motorcycle couriers in Europe are nutters and don’t really help promote lane-splitting, but if they didn’t do it, they’d be out of a job. I once rode behind a courier on an old XT500 who came up behind a Mini and an MG. His bars were too wide to make it between them, so he popped up the front wheel and gunned it through, bars up over the roofs. I didn’t try to follow, but paused in awe. I was not worthy.)

Advocates of lane-filtering say riders are less likely to be rear-ended in traffic, more likely to remain cool and comfortable because they’re moving, and more likely to take their bike instead of their car or SUV. They claim that moving 10 per cent of people out of cars and onto bikes can reduce traffic congestion by 40 per cent.

There’s a reason why the overhead signs tell drivers to watch in their mirrors for motorcycles. And in California, they do.

That’s never going to be a permanent solution in Canada because almost all of us also already own a car, so if it’s a bit wet, or a bit cold, we’ll park the bike and sit in traffic with our coffees and cell phones and radios. That’s what we do now, after all, because there’s not much incentive to transfer to the smaller vehicle. Some cities offer free parking, but it takes just as long to get there if you can’t filter, and chances are you’ll arrive hot and sweaty, or chilled, in all but a few spring and fall months.

That’s why I’m in a grumpy mood, and I’m slamming my fist on the desk. I’m hot and sweaty and late. I guess I’ll drive in tomorrow in my SUV. And the bureaucrat shrugs. Hey – if it saves just one life… Except it doesn’t, and it maybe even makes the ride a little more risky. But the bureaucrat doesn’t know. Never even been on a bike – looks far too dangerous.


  1. I see no reason we couldn’t have lane-splitting here. Sure, our drivers are terrible, but they can’t really be any less skilled than those in California. Heck, Cali has tons of unlicensed illegal immigrants on its road, an issue we don’t (yet) have here in Ontario.

    I’m not holding my breath waiting for it to be legalized, though. When even many riders are dead-set against it as being far too dangerous, and needs to be illegal to protect other people from themselves (nobody would be forcing anyone to do it if they don’t want to), the chances of our politicians and bureaucrats pulling their heads out of their asses long enough to look at the issue logically are somewhere around zero, IMO.

    It’s too bad, because I would certainly enjoy commuting by bike more, and do it more often, if there was any actual benefit from it. As it is, I have to take extra time to get geared up, and then as often as not arrive hot and sweaty, especially if I get stuck in the daily QEW slowdowns. At least in my car I can crank up the AC and enjoy a cold beverage while I’m sitting going nowhere fast.

  2. In Canada we have many immigrants that grew up with lane splitting and filtering. They would be quick to catch on and speed the education process.

  3. re: Mark’s comment, “I think speeding idiots will abuse it and hurt themselves…”
    This is what is happening in California on a daily basis and causing both police and state bureaucrats to rethink whether the practise should continue to be allowed. Riders simply filtering safely past slow-moving traffic – under 40 kph – in order to make efficient progress are not an issue. But when they’re hooning between vehicles at 120 kph+ and making the nightly news as killed or seriously injured it causes authorities to react.

    The possibility of filtering being tolerated or made legal in Ontario is a non-starter. The province’s safety-crats regard biking as dangerous and would be happy to see motorcycles disappear from public roads.

    • Well that is reckless driving and they can be charged for it. If they are already doing something against the law(reckless driving) then making more laws won’t stop them…

    • From what I’ve seen in Brampton where the hooligans are lane splitting at will ( and at speed, and with very poor judgement) we will never have it in Ontario. We can’t lobby for changes because we never seem to have a formal body that actually represents motorcyclists.

  4. Lots of conversation going on here, which is always a good thing.
    Personally, I’m not convinced lane-splitting, or lane-filtering, is either safer or more dangerous. But I am convinced, from riding in many different places that allow it, that it is no more dangerous than not lane filtering. I think speeding idiots will abuse it and hurt themselves, and I think some car drivers will continue to try to block motorcyclists just because they think we should be held up in traffic too (though we’re subject to the weather, etc.) The solution there is just to ride defensively and with no distractions.
    And for the record, I do not lane filter in Ontario. When other vehicles don’t expect it, it’s too risky. I do think, though, that there’s no such word as “never” and it’s short-minded to write off Ontario, or anywhere else in Canada. Most of us are immigrants, after all, and have experience of countries where lane-splitting is expected from both bikes and cars.

    • Filtering should be the common term. And I do it downtown, to get to the front of the queue at lights. Tough to do in the burbs with 2 or 3 lanes of trucks side by side.
      I think the biggest difference between North America and the rest of the world is the types of bikes ridden. Here, low slung and wide cruisers are most popular segment, and not a suitable format for filtering. Unfortunately, that’s likely the mental image your typical ‘bureaucrat’ has. Taller standards and ADV type bikes are the most suitable, as evidenced in much of Europe.

  5. I love riding in Europe so much and lane splitting is just one part of it, unfortunately the anti everything Ontario gov will not allow it and people are far to uneducated to understand how many of these things work and are beneficial to everyone.

  6. Never happen in Canada. Hell in Ontario there is no law that says lane splitting is illegal but there are 2 laws under the highway traffic act that they could charge you with and 1 under the stunt driving law. So for it to be legal in Canada all 3 would have to change and let’s face it, that will never happen unless the fines are going up. Better chance getting lane filtering legal then go after lane splitting. And yes there is a difference between the 2.

  7. I will never cease to be amazed at the lengths that riders will go to pretend that there is robust scientific evidence in favor of lane-splitting on a safety basis.

    You say “California allows it, and has research to show it’s safer than being stuck in traffic”, and link to the 2015 Rice, Troszak, and Erhardt paper. I read this study, too, and I can only imagine that you must have linked to the wrong paper, because it says nothing of the sort. In fact, the conclusion notes that:

    “The current data set cannot be used to compare the collision risks for lane-splitting or non-lane-splitting riders.”

    and then specifically proposes further research to compare the risks of being rear-ended versus lane-splitting.

    But hey, don’t let me stand in the way of a good internet fist-thumping.

    • OK then how about the UC Berkeley Study that found the following:

      – Lane-splitting is safe if done in traffic moving at 50 mph or less, and if motorcyclists do not exceed the speed of other vehicles by more than 15 mph

      – Compared to riders who were not splitting lanes, lane-splitting motorcyclists were markedly less likely to suffer head injury (9 percent vs. 17 percent), torso injury (19 percent vs. 29 percent) or fatal injury (1.2 percent vs. 3 percent)

      – Lane-splitting riders were significantly less likely to be rear-ended than non-lane-splitting riders (2.6 percent vs. 4.6 percent)

      • Don’t forget that this has been studied lots in Europe as well, and consistently they conclude that lane splitting is as safe or safer than riding in the regular flow of traffic, and has immense benefits to congestion.

        • I would love to see such a study, if you have a source. I’ve been on the lookout for one, for years, and I have yet to see one that addresses the question of safety.

          Yes, I know the congestion reducing effects are well understood.

      • The Rice, Troszak, and Erhardt paper IS from UC Berkeley. Is there a different paper you’re referring to?

        None of these things, in isolation, say that lane-splitting is safer than non-lane-splitting. Are you just selectively quoting statistics from it out of context? The authors specifically say (see above) that this study doesn’t address this question.

        Yes, clearly if you’re moving forward you’re less likely to be rear-ended, but that doesn’t necessarily make you safer. Driving 100 mph all the time also makes you less likely to be rear-ended.

        • From what I can tell everyone is using Ontario as a basis to regard the practice of filtering, and like some have suggested on the East Coast the weather simply doesn’t prompt for riding year round. However places with a climate much more mild such as the West Coast, like BC I could see filtering to be useful. As you could get away with riding almost year round if not at least three of the four season’s. Not to mention due to different terrain levels and mountains in BC it makes for a much more popular destination for motorcycles, then somewhere like the prairies. I believe we need to implement filtering in a smaller city or province like BC and see how it works and run some studies. Then push to implement it across the rest of Canada as a whole. Having seen what a difference it makes across the border in California. I have no doubts BC can be what California is to the rest of America. Also I mention filtering oppose to lane splitting as they are two different things. However I believe if we can get society use to the idea of filtering then lane splitting isn’t to far off as well.

  8. lane splitting in Ontario would be a death wish. People cant drive in a straight line, they are too busy looking at their cell phones instead. Some don’t have cell phones and simply cannot drive. Only an idiot would go lane split in today’s self entitlement traffic.

    • You do raise a good point, though it’s a bit over dramatic.
      Lane splitting occurs at low speeds.
      If you ever get the change to try it, you would very much like it.
      The thought you describe is valid – drivers need to be aware, and as a lane splitting rider, you need to proceed with caution.
      Most especially until we remove the idiots like Tim Mackinnon posting below.

  9. It is dangerous. The difference between here and “everywhere in the world” is that they have had time to educated cagers and so the whole thing works. On our roads, it’s dangerous to be on a bike at the best of times, add this to it and watch the stats and fatalities rise.

    • Obviously you have numbers / studies to back up your statement….. nope didn’t think so. That is the exact reason why it isn’t allowed here because instead of looking at the studies out there that show that lane splitting actually does the opposite of what you’re describing politicians instead just go “well uh gee-whiz that looks dangerous so it must be”.

      • it’s just common sense. North American drivers are not accustomed to little bikes flitting through traffic like many other places in the world are. this would effectively make the lanes narrower, and the penalty for straying over the line is somebody getting severely injured.
        When you go to South Asian countries for example, every driver is an absolute pro. they are much more engaged in moving down the road because they have to be, and we just don’t have that here. Driving while on the phone is unheard of in many places because you are guaranteed to get in an accident, and this would be one step closer to that kind of environment.

    • I play by the rules. If someone tries to pass me between lanes I’ll go through the motions of opening my door…I would really endanger someone just for being stupid or rude. Sometimes I just yawn and stretch my arm out the window.

      • Rules? What rules are you talking about?

        In what twisted parallel universe is it lawful and even the least bit reasonable to intentionally open your door on a motorcyclist? You would kill another person, whom you don’t even know, because they got ahead of you in a traffic jam? How petty are you? What about the thousands of other cars that are already in front of you in any traffic jam? Think about it.

        You are exactly the type of self-important asshole that makes riding a bike in traffic so dangerous in the first place.

      • You’re an imbecile and a bully. Your comments reek of jealousy and low self esteem. Everyone here is being constructive, in favor or against… then comes the idiot wasting everyone’s time. Get a life and save your left arm; I wear hard gloves, MX boots and crash bars just for brain dead jerks like you. (yes, the sound of your bones breaking would be rather pleasing) Next time I’m in Montreal I’ll give you a shout through Facebook and see if you stand by your statement.

    • Hey Tim,
      I used to be a motorcycle instructor in the UK.
      We taught all our pupils – if a driver opens their door and you’re not certain you can get around it, aim for the hinge.
      Lowest point of obstruction; you go over the hood into safe space instead of flipping off into another lane; and with any luck you’ll park your bike inside the car and break the driver’s legs. Teach them not to do it again!
      Stay safe out there.

  10. That is the most stupid, dangerous idea i have ever heard! Motorcycles need to keep a safe zone around them especialy at highway speeds. Always the same outcome. Cars dont always do wat they are suppoesd to do! Car 1 motorcycle 0. Distracted or drunk.

    • Go back and read the article.
      Lane splitting occurs at low speed, mostly in stopped traffic.
      It has been normal practice in most areas where congestion is an issue.
      In Europe, the motorbikes filter through to the front of the line at traffic stops – this significantly reduces the amount of traffic congestion.
      It’s well past time it becomes the norm here in Canada.

      • Read the article? Come on now people who are against lane-splitting don’t want to look at studies or read articles. They’re just pissy they’re stuck in non-moving traffic and think everybody should be.

  11. Like I always say…..
    If you can’t, then don’t, we’re all safer then!
    It seems that not all of you who added a post actually read/Understood what the article stated.
    If it was legal and you didnt feel comfortable doing it then DON’T….. “Don’t give in to peer pressure unless your friends tell you too”
    It is a “dangerous” manoeuvre and calls for the rider to use an extra dose of your “bat senses” (which should be used ALL THE TIME ANYWAY…) to make it that much safer for YOU.
    Should be 100% legalized! I’d definitely ride everyday to work then…

  12. It’s ridiculous….. no split lanes no fun !!!!! Every place around the world it’s legal, but Canada, government have allot to learn….. what’s the point to ride in the jammed traffic in a hot day?

  13. I have been riding all my life and at no point have I ever had the slightest desire to lane split. While driving in California I had guys barley getting past my car mirrors on large full dress cruisers. First time I try that and Suzy-Q swerves while texting and I am a dead.

    • not all of us drive the bike buses, the Harley with the tv, radio and kitchen stove on their dash are a very small minority of riders.

  14. Poor driver training is not a reason to prohibit filtering, it is a reason to improve driver training. “It can’t be done” has been proven wrong enough times. In the end, if you don’t want to filter, don’t; or, join the rest of the world in appreciating the number one reason to ride a motorcycle in an urban environment.

    • Finally, some enlightened comments.
      I might add…”if your riding skills are not up to the task, then don’t filter”.

  15. In holland (spent 5 years there), the rule of thumb was don’t do it over 50kph, and keep a reasonable speed differential. Never had an issue, never owned a car. “Sounds dangerous” is the only reason it’s banned here (and everywhere else).
    Like Europe, all the police need to do is tolerate it, and all riders have to do is stick to those rules I just mentioed. If I do it here (on the highway usually), I keep it down to 30kph or so because it IS the case that drivers don’t expect you there between cars. This will continue to be the case until more riders do it more often. That’s the only way.
    But in regards to Ontario in particular, change is bad.. mmmkay?

  16. Living just outside Montreal, I split lanes on occasions in my daily commute to downtown when the traffic gets badly jammed. Never had an issue, car drivers don’t complain as long as you drive respectfully. (Actually I find other drivers quite respectful in general, as long as you stay predictable and respect them too… )

    Last year in a severe traffic jam I was splitting lanes and drove on the shoulder a bit to get around a big truck, also happen to pass a cop in an ghost car, got a $250 ticket, the police told me he would not fine me for lane splitting, only for driving on the shoulder, he then said I would get the ticket by mail. Never got it…

    So I think it’s ok to split lanes in Canada, as long as you do it slowly in conditions that warrant it. It’s just like the speed limit, you can always exceed it as long as you don’t exaggerate.

    • Are you on a black cruiser? Because the guy who came off the Ville Marie Westbound and up Decarie caught me off guard a couple times last summer while stuck on the Turcot.

      Although I did see that guy was caught by cops…

      That said, the SAAQ is supposedly considering lane-splitting, but they take forever to decide anything.

  17. While I’d probably never do it while traffic was moving at much over 40 km/h – I would really like to be able to do it in bumper to bumper traffic like on the DVP in Toronto – odds are nobody is going to change lanes when nobody is really moving. Same with any inner-city traffic

    • My instructor told me what he called the 20/20 rule. Don’t go more than 20mph faster than the traffic and don’t do it past traffic doing more than 20mph. So far the rule has served me well. I look for opportunities where cars can’t change lanes due to other cars being there. Doing it in a group of riders feels safer, especially if they have loud bikes (I don’t) often means cars make space.

  18. 40 years as a licensed rider and I’ve never had the urge or seen a need for lane splitting. It’s a dangerous practice, I’m against it. Too many distracted driver now switching lanes without looking or signalling.

    • “It’s a dangerous practice”. Exactly why it’s not legal here. People spewing comments like that and totally ignoring the studies showing that it isn’t dangerous.

  19. When was the last time you saw anyone stopped and getting a ticket for it ?
    If you ride in the downtown core of any large city its the only way to get around.
    BUT, as you say, its kinda like insurance costs – no politician can be bothered to touch it.

  20. Being more risk-averse than some when it comes to motorcycling, I used to think that lane-splitting (filtering is a better word, thanks Stephen Paulger) was too dangerous. However, after riding through Mexico city, and Guatemala city, I realize that without it, in those congested environments, traffic would go nowhere.

    In Canada, there have been many times on the “ring roads” of cities where it would have been much safer for me, and faster for traffic in general, if the motorcyclists could gently make their way through the crowd when traffic comes to a standstill or is barely creeping along.

    The difference is that in Mexico city, it is expected. Drivers will roll down their window and put their hand out to protect their mirrors when they see you coming. Some will even give you some more room. Others, of course will shout warnings and obscenities if you get too close and risk scraping their car. But, they are aware, they see you coming, they expect it.

    In Canada, there aren’t enough motorcycles to easily acclimate the general population to expect to see motorcycles coming up beside them in traffic. The long winter break makes everyone forget they even exist. Perhaps a law, in popular motorcycle cities, to allow it when traffic is stopped would be a good start, and have lots of conscientious riders making it a normal thing to see in traffic.

    My 2cents.

    • I honestly think that it would never work in Ontario. Ever. Safely. I already see guys lane splitting at speed over 80km/h on the highway. With speed differentials that are plain dangerous. The drivers are even worse. Failing to signal lane changes, aggressive maneuvers, forcing other out of lane, intentional blocking. Ontario drivers would take immediate offence to the “unfairness” of bikers getting through traffic even if the rules were followed. We are not as mature as the European riders. Just watch the videos online. I go to the UK every year and watching the splitting /filtering over there is great. Everyone (almost) respects it. Different world.

  21. Matt Tee – lane splitting is the same as overtaking. It shouldn’t be banned because some drivers don’t use their mirrors.

    P.S. I’ve lane split in India, it even works there.

    • They have “lanes” in India Ed? Clearly nobody’s told them. It’s little more than a stroke of luck if India traffic happens to be it’s own side of the road, let alone driving within lanes…

  22. Completely agree with Matt Tee on this one, I too have enjoyed riding around the west coast of the USA via lane splitting, but the drivers out in the east coast of canada have not a clue on how to get themselves from point A to point B without murder, let alone allowing the safe travel of lane splitting motorists. It’s a great concept, but unrealistic.

  23. The morons running Ontario won’t even allow motorcycles in the HOV lanes without carrying a passenger (the only place in the world that I’ve heard of with that policy) again, contrary to all safety studies and common sense so I wouldn’t expect filtering to be on the table any time soon. Or is that a fist thump for another day as well?

  24. While I have been to the land-o-plenty that is California, and greatly enjoyed the ability to not sit in traffic, I really don’t think the skills of motorists in Ontario, both two and four wheeled, is capable of dealing with it. Way too damn selfish.

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