Newsletter: Filtering through

It may feel strange, but lane splitting is totally legal in California and its the only way to get around LA quickly.

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.


  1. Back in 82 I rode from BC to Toronto to catch a flight to Gatwick with my motorcycle and toured Europe ( 14 countries) for 4 months. As I recall every country I rode allowed bicycles, mopeds, and motorcycles to filter thru traffic at stop signs, traffic lights, or traffic jams. At 1st I was reluctant to do this but later on during the tour I had whole heartily embraced this. Seen no accidents, no unruly cagers, as a matter of fact everyone expected you to do this since it helped improve the flow of traffic. Fast forward to 2015 my wife and I rented a motorhome for 3 weeks drove to Barcelona to watch a F1 race and then the GP1 in Lemans. Noticed bikers were doing the same thing with the same results – improved the flow of traffic in villages, towns and cities, with no ill consequences. Last year a friend and I rode from Northern BC to Laguna Seca to see the WSB races. Of course we stuck to the coast highway as much as possible and after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge we were stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. We waited in line like a couple of dumb ass Canadian Bikers and after travelling only a couple of city blocks in 15 minutes and noticing all the local bikers filtering or lane splitting thru traffic we of course decided to do the same. We ended up lane splitting at low and high speeds the remainder of time we spent on freeways in California. The thing that surprized me the most about this was how considerate the 4 wheel drivers were when approaching them from the rear as they would move away from the center line to allow you to pass more safely. My observations after all these trips is that as a whole Canadian drivers are no better or worse than other drivers in the world however we have this me only mentality, and we like to talk or study anything to death before we are willing to change. Unfortunately I don’t see any progressive changes in traffic law to allow traffic filtering or lane splitting to happen soon or at least during my time. Instead I would like to see the current laws, upheld or followed such as left lane drivers who refuse to move back into the right lane, and slow drivers holding up traffic with more than 4 vehicles behind them that refuse to pull over to allow traffic to safely pass them.

  2. Great article. I’m in Australia at the moment where (like most of the rest of the world) lane ‘filtering’ is legal & just makes so much sense. But back home in BC, where a lot of drivers won’t even let cars zipper merge (they move over immediately for a lane that’s ending 500 meters away & heaven forbid you should drive up that empty lane!) I’m afraid there’s no way they would ever stand for motorcyclists being allowed to ‘get to the front of the line’ while they’re stuck in traffic ?.

  3. The accident scene in Richmond (and Vancouver) is nothing short of legendary. I poop you not. I would LOVE to lane-split . . . BUT (wait for it) . . . Context (local environment) is everything and leaves all else mere theory. I discovered it back in 1989 when I – a polite Canadian – was navigating through an eight-lane Los Angeles freeway at rush hour. A cop on a bike pulled up and asked me why I was waiting in traffic. “Follow me!” Well, yes, SIR!!! He saw my licence plate, took pity on me. Scared the hell out of me, but, no car doors opened, no one cut us off. In L.A. Fast-forward to (bite my lip, chew the inside of my cheek) Richmond, B.C. Richmond has a majority immigrant population that is fond of (literally) buying their driver’s licence. People die and are maimed for life because of this outlier demographic that insists on bringing homeland values with them to Canada. They either refuse to or cannot follow local rules and courtesies. Left-hand turn artists abound. I’ll have to cry “foul” on this one and say “not in my backyard”. Bummer, too.

  4. I’ve had friends and family question the filtering concept and have seen a motorcycle squeeze between the curb and vehicle to turn right. When I ask them if they sometimes squeeze there car between the curb and vehicle the odd time when coming up to a turning lane they all say they do…. well, then what’s the difference???? It takes education which costs money and requires someone to give half a shit, we are out of both.

  5. Makes you wonder that if the rest of the world (basically outside of Canada and most of the USA) do this then why don’t we? And last time I checked, traffic is much more ‘wild’ in other parts of the world when compared to Canada, even to big cities like Montreal, Vancouver or Toronto. Recently, the past few riding seasons, I notice more and more motorcyclists doing this locally in the GTA where I live. I would assume that if you are a new comer to Canada and you finally get yourself on a motorcycle, sharing lanes would be perfectly normal to you. When I watch these riders filter it looks perfectly natural to them. To most visitors to Canada watching motorcycles and scooters lined up with cars stopped in traffic is ridiculous to them. Go ahead. Ask a visitor. They will tell it’s stupid. We should change this. It’s about time. There will never be enough motorcycles on the road in Canada to make this a safety issue. Most Canadian motorcycle riders view their motorcycles as recreational vehicles and not daily transportation. This is why we have the motorcycle accidents we do. Most motorcyclists in Canada suck at riding a motorcycle and this is the real danger. Ride your motorcycle and scooter to work/school everyday and see if your skills improve or not. Try it. But use your head. Then let’s talk about filtering.

  6. I’m afraid I wouldn’t trust car drivers in Ontario not to try to change lanes or crowd a lane. They resent motorcycles too much. Guess that’s the same reason they aren’t allowed in the HOV unless with pillion. After all they take up less space, are easier on the road and use less fuel. Isn’t what we want to encourage? By the way, anybody know the official Ontario reason why they aren’t?

  7. The answer is simple. Designate 0.5 at the edge of every lane where any 2 wheeled transport has priority. ( Gotta give them pedal bikers a break too – they work so hard after all)

  8. Canadian former rider (3 project bikes in the shed, 2 young kids, no time / money to ride atm) living in Australia, where lane filtering is gradually being legalized across the country it seems. Here it’s only meant to be legal moving up to lights and below 30 km/hr by fully licensed riders. Being able to ride year round makes it more viable here, but I have seen cars move to block bikes on free ways for no particular reason. I work from home so it doesn’t mean all that much to me, but I’m not sure I would do it I had the chance to.

    This story came up shortly after filtering was legalized, which didn’t make me feel a whole better about, although I would have been wearing high-vis gear:

  9. I’ve done lane splitting in California and in Europe and to no one’s surprise, it’s safe and the most effective way to get through traffic. This summer when I rode down to Laguna Seca for WSB, an even better by product is filtering. In construction zones when traffic is stopped, you simply move to the front. Car drivers don’t care because they know you’re not going to hold them up once you get moving again. Not only do you suffer in the heat less while waiting in line, when you’re allowed to go, you have miles of clear, wonderful road in front of you, not sucking diesel fumes or being stuck behind lumbering RVs and motorhomes.

    Here in BC, motorcycles are allowed in the HOV lanes without being forced to carry a passenger (like the rest of the civilized world) and not only is it a great way to bypass traffic jams, it’s much safer than sitting in a flotilla of impatient cagers who seem to think multiple lane changes will make their commute go better.

    I fear Ontario will never get with the program – and not only for the HOV issue but also for their archaic speed limits. C’mon – the limit on the 401 back in the 70s was 70 mph (112 kph) when cars had ropey suspension and four wheel drum brakes. Most two lane roads away from towns out here are 100 kph and several highways are 120.

  10. As traffic continues to worsen (by the day it seems) here in the west end of the GTA, I’m beginning to grow desperate for solutions to get the traffic quagmire oozing again. Filtering would be great, but as mentioned previously, I’d even be overjoyed at single-rider HOV riding to start.

  11. Even if they changed the law and made it legal here, I would NEVER do it in Ontario! Too dangerous. Too many ‘Its all about me’ assholes here.

  12. In Ottawa it’s been almost equally contentious getting separated bicycle lanes to be installed in major traffic areas. What seems to have worked is a gradual introduction of the concept, e.g. here’s a main thoroughfare, let’s try it and learn, and then expand to other areas gradually.

    A similar approach could work for filtering. As a first step, motorcycles should be allowed to use HOV lanes. (It’s safer for everyone when you’re in a lane that vehicles can’t randomly switch into, often without signaling.) Then, in a few thoughtfully chosen HOV sections, allow filtering along a well-defined stretch. Expand the concept from there and adopt clear signage about what’s allowed on that stretch of highway. HOV lanes were introduced the same way.

    It takes a lot of time to educate drivers on changes (they are still figuring out roundabouts in Ottawa!). An incremental approach mitigates the risks and allows time for the community to get used to the idea. I agree that it’s unlikely there’ll ever be an overnight switch from no-filtering to filtering-anywhere. However, allowing filtering in some areas may be possible, and is better than nothing.

    • Unfortunately, our HOV lanes, as implemented, don’t really fit the description “lane that vehicles can’t randomly switch into” – oh, it may be marked that way, but many people don’t let the presence of some solid white lines prevent them from doing what they want.

  13. Its been proven thru a study in Brussels that if 10% of drivers switch to motorcycles, because of filtering, there will be a 40% improvement in traffic congestion for everyone.

    But that kind of logic does not interest Ontario. With its bike lane program, lowering of urban arterial speed limits to 40 kph, and now the King Street streetcar priority driving restrictions (try riding on Adelaide now), the City of Toronto is actively promoting traffic congestion.

    Mark, I appreciate your intentions, but truth and logic can’t fight against this tide of propaganda. Enough people to care enough to even try to understand.

  14. I think it should be legal, here. I’ve tried it in LA and it didn’t seem particularly hazardous to me, no more so than riding on those freeways in general, and possibly safer. Allowing it here would require a modicum of intelligence from our political masters, so I’m not holding my breath. I would definitely commute on my bike more often if I could lane split, or use the HOV lanes, on the QEW. In LA the preferred lane splitting zone actually seemed to be the divider between the HOV lanes and regular lanes, actually.

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