Lane sharing: Why it’s great, and where we’re at

Jurisdictions that legalize lane sharing often put significant resources into driver education afterwards. We'd need a really big effort here in Canada, where drivers are generally moto-oblivious at the best of times. Photo: Transport New South Wales

Note: In this article about lane sharing, we’ll be using the terms “filtering” and “lanesplitting.” You’ll see different definitions from different people and jurisdictions for these practices. We define them as this:

Lanesplitting: The practice of riding your motorcycle between moving cars.
Filtering: The practice of riding your motorcycle between non-moving cars to get to the front at a stop in traffic.

Other sites may use slightly different terminology, and the definitions around the world vary by jurisdiction, but what we are not advocating for is lane sharing at high speed. Even in California, the most liberal lane sharing jurisdiction in North America, law enforcement frowns on that practice, because it is not safe.

It’s an idea whose time has come, it seems. Once again, state governments in the US are looking at the idea of lane sharing for motorcycles — changing the rules of the road so motorcycles can ride between cars under certain circumstances. This time, it’s Virginia and Arizona.

It’s something we don’t see in Canada, but we should. Here’s why:

Why lane sharing is good

It’s actually safer for motorcyclists, if done correctly.

The stereotype image of lane sharing is an unlicenced punk on a clapped-out supersport banging between cars, helmet mohawk flapping in the wind, en route to a date with the ER. The reality is that, in jurisdictions where lane sharing is legal, it’s not just the squids who are filtering ahead at stops, or splitting between lanes in stalled freeway traffic, it’s everyone — even the police. Especially the police.

I’ve split between lanes on California freeways, where it’s legal, and filtered ahead at stops there. But for a better perspective, I called up Shaun Devlin.

Devlin is sort of a fixer for a motorcycle manufacturer, running demo rides for customers in the summer, and also helping with press rides. He’s ridden all over the USA and seen it all, and before that, he had a 25-year career in law enforcement around southern California, where both filtering ahead at stops, and splitting between moving cars, are legal.

Devlin says the lane sharing works because, in an urban environment, it protects riders.

A lot of motorcycles are struck from behind in heavy traffic when they’re sitting in the lane approaching a stop sign or stop line,” he says. “The second you get between the cars, you’re now protected.” He also says the same is true on freeways, if traffic is moving slowly. “A motorcyclist is always at their most vulnerable position riding when they’re kind of stuck and locked into being in one space.

“Being able to lane-split, when there’s safe room between cars, being able to pop through there and move on and have a better vision of what’s in front of you, when that semi’s not next to you, that makes all the difference in the world.”

He says that’s why lane sharing techniques are taught in police motorcycle schools in California, and why law enforcement uses those techniques. However, he also points out that riders sharing lanes must use courtesy and common sense — no high-speed lanesplitting, no banging on cars that won’t let you through.

Motorcyclists have got to be smart too,” he says. “They can’t be pushy, they have to be respectful of the people in the cars and understand it’s a privilege, it’s not your right.”

Devlin’s observations are backed up by studies, going all the way back to the 1981 Hurt Report, which seemed to indicate lane sharing improved safety if done cautiously. More recently, in 2016, a UC Berkeley study said the same thing: it found lane sharing reduced the severity of crash injuries, if done at sensible speeds.

There’s also this 2011 study from Belgium, which says lane sharing is an excellent way to reduce road congestion. If you hear a car driver complain that lane sharing isn’t fair, because it lets motorcyclists cut ahead, share this study with them. Lane sharing lets everyone get ahead, not just riders.

“But it won’t work here!”

And now we come to the most common objection to lane sharing: “Sure, it works in California, or Europe, or Asia, or Australia, or South America, or Africa, but it won’t work here — the drivers are too crazy!” This is usually followed up by some muttering about immigrant drivers, and how it’d be a bloodbath as soon as lane sharing began, since drivers aren’t used to it.

First, let’s acknowledge the irony of saying “Immigrants from areas where lane sharing is common won’t be able to deal with the practice here.”

Second, let’s look at a jurisdiction where lane sharing was illegal, and then recently legalized. This is the exact scenario that’s held up as potential disaster, and it’s what happened in Utah in 2019. Formerly, the state’s traffic laws said lane sharing was illegal, and House Bill 149 changed the law to say:

(5) An individual may engage in lane filtering only when the following conditions exist:
(a) the individual is operating a motorcycle;
(b) the individual is on a roadway divided into two or more adjacent traffic lanes in the same direction of travel;
(c) the individual is on a roadway with a speed limit of 45 miles per hour or less;
(d) the vehicle being overtaken in the same lane is stopped;
(e) the motorcycle is traveling at a speed of 15 miles per hour or less; and
(f) the movement may be made safely.

That’s considerably more watered-down than California, where the Highway Patrol advised riders to not travel more than 10 mph faster than traffic, and not to split lanes at speeds over 30 mph. However, it’s still lane sharing, and if the naysayers were right, surely we’d see carnage on the streets?

That’s not the case. I contacted the Salt Lake City police department, and their media rep was unaware of any notable accidents or road rage incidents connected to lane filtering, as they call it there. He referred me to a sergeant with the state’s Public Safety department, who also happened to be a Kawasaki KLR rider. He said the same thing: there’d been a few minor incidents, but the one below, which appears to be fairly minor, grabbed considerable media attention, making more people aware of the law.

He says he’s heard similar stories from other riders on a non-official basis, but nothing wild and crazy. He says that’s probably because Utah put considerable effort into public awareness before lane filtering became law — see the video below, which educates the public and also gives riders guidelines.

When South Australia legalized lane filtering (slightly different rules than Utah, but similar idea), it produced a similar video, below. It’s aimed at riders, not cagers, but it does help with awareness.

By the way, Australian jurisdictions have been legalizing lane sharing over the past few years, and we haven’t heard of any big increase in traffic incidents down there, either.

What’s happening in Canada?

As stated at the start of the article, Virginia and Arizona are both considering lane sharing legalization right now, and over the past few years, so have Connecticut, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Montana. Utah legalized lane filtering in 2019, and Hawaii legalized a very weak form of the practice as well. Lane sharing has been practised in California for years, although only recently officially recognized by government.

Here in Canada, officials in Toronto examined the idea in 2018, after Councillor Anthony Perruzza put the idea forward at a council meeting. Two years later, we’ve never heard the end result of their inquiries. The fact that the lane-sharing pilot project never went ahead is a bad sign, though.

We do, however, have the Lane Filter British Columbia page on Facebook, and the Motorcycle Filtering in Alberta page. Both these pages seem to be meeting with limited success for now (approximately 3,000 likes for the BC page, 1,300 for the Alberta page). The people behind these pages say they’ve been talking to law enforcement and government officials about getting lane sharing started in those provinces.

If your commute looks like this, you need some form of lane sharing.

On a national scale, the Canadian  Motorcycle Association ran a survey in 2019, asking what people thought about “Lane Splitting and Lane Filtering.” The result, as per the CMA’s website:

“Although the input was generally in favour of such initiatives, there were concerns about increased risk to the safety of the motorcyclists, and a strong recommendation that the authorities conduct a major educational campaign prior to implementation.

Given the CMA’s focus on safety, it is our position that, of the two practices, endorsement of the practice of lane-filtering is worthy of considerable more emphasis than that of lane-splitting. It is not expected that the practice of riding between and among other moving vehicles, even when all drivers are attentive and capable, can be accomplished without increased risk to the motorcyclist …”

You can see the CMA’s resulting policy here. The CMA basically says riding between stopped cars is safer than moving cars, so that’s what it wants to focus on. We haven’t heard of any CMA plans to mount a campaign to promote either practice, but that’s what the website says.

So it seems that while there are smaller groups or individuals talking to government officials, there’s no nation-wide movement to promote lane sharing. There also seems to be antipathy towards the term “lanesplitting,” although it’s been used in California for decades, and a bit of dislike towards the idea of riding between moving cars.

Does this make sense? Riding between slow-moving cars is a massive time-saver on California freeways, and is no doubt a major part of the traffic congestion solution proposed in the Belgian study in 2011. It’s my opinion that that is what we need to be aiming for, and that needs to be clear from the start. While it makes sense to start off slow with simple filtering at stops, the end goal should be towards riding through slow-moving traffic to bypass congestion. This should be emphasized in public education from the beginning.

Maybe you feel differently, and that’s fine: Nobody here wants to make you try lane sharing, in any form. But hopefully, for the rest of us, 2020 will be the year we see progress forward.


  1. Much like Climate Change Deniers, there will ALWAYS be a certain percentage of uninformed Dunning-Kruger sufferers who will ignore the proven facts in favour of their own uninformed opinion. I suggest we let them enjoy their perch on the summit of Mt. Stupid and continue to push for the laws to change.

  2. I’m sure we’ve all witnessed car drivers heaping verbal (and sometimes, physical) abuse on a fellow motorist who “jumps the queue” in slow-moving traffic. Can you imagine the reaction to motorcyclists zipping ahead? Seems like motorists in jurisdictions that allow this practice are waaay more chill than Canadian drivers.

  3. Both lane splitting and filtering are legal in Auckland NZ where it is permitted so long as you are sensible about things. Yesterday I saved 20min lane splitting for 15km and felt totally safe. Much more so than being in stop/start traffic between vehicles. My own standard is to split up to around 50km/hr and not more than around 20km/hr faster than the traffic – once speeds are above that, I rejoin. And I stop when the gap is not safe. Drivers are in the main fantastic. Nearly all leave room or move over as soon as they see me. I frequently give them a wave when they do so. I think they recognise that we are one less car taking space. Win/win. I highly recommend splitting and filtering and don’t really understand why it is so difficult to introduce elsewhere really.

  4. Never could quite figure out how a Toronto City Council could test something on 2 specific streets within that City, that is not legal within the Province of Ontario. Legislation requires that any by-laws of a municipality must conform with the laws of the Province. I guess that’s why the study never went anywhere. Staff know when to simply ignore ill-informed directions of Council. I’m not saying that it’s a bad idea, its just that Councillor Anthony Perruzza had no idea of what he can and can’t do when he put forward the motion.

  5. If I am at the front of a line of cars @ a traffic light,that is I’m against the pedestrian markings denoting the crossing, where will these people that split the lanes be at the moment the light turns green? They must remain behind the same line as myself ,that is to say they will be crowded between the cars and if you think I’m going to wait till they shuffle off ahead of me–think again. I will accelerate when the light turns green as I have always done and so will they. This is NOT a good idea.I have right of way as I’m occupying my lane and they? What of their legal rights going to be?

    • What do they do in all the places it’s legal when the light turns? We would probably just do that. Also stop looking at it as YOUR lane or YOUR right of way, this isn’t a competition and the roads belong to us all. We all want to get down the road safely, take a breath and relax.

      • The solution may be found in another area of transportation. The Air Navigation Orders and Aeronautic Regulations for Canada lay out a right way policy which basically states powered aircraft give way to gliders, gliders yield to free balloons and all yield to tethered balloons. At the end of it all a statement is made that regardless of who has the right of way, nothing in the Act relieves the pilot in command of the responsibility to avoid an accident.

      • It IS my lane,lol. You are not allowed to impinge. The term that it is better known as is called “sharing the road”. That means you don’t crowd up beside my car at ANY time. If a car enters my lane and contacts me, it isn’t MY fault. It’s the impinger that gets charged. So my point was they are not to be impinging on my lane in the first place. How can the HTA allow it? And btw I never said they aren’t allowed to their own piece of the road, just not MY piece of it. If it’s not a competition then just sit in YOUR lane like everyone else…’s not a competition…..pfft.

        • If lane splitting is legalized it isn’t “your lane” and bikes will have the right to line up beside you at a light. If you race them off the line then you are a passive aggressive tool. I expect you currently drive this way and treat other drivers this way due to your sense of “fairness” and entitlement.

          People like Paul will be a problem. But even they will settle down once the rules are in place. Let’s get started.

  6. Not going to happen. Hell, we have a province that effectively bans riding motorcycles between two calendar dates regardless of actual road conditions. It took about 30 years of arguing to make the eminently sensible decision to increase the speed limit on (some) 400 series highway to 110.

    • What’s wrong with either of those laws? They have nothing to do with the filtering/splitting argument and both relate to safety and common sense.

  7. Australia seems to be adept at producing good quality safety videos or maybe it is just the best that show up here. It is refreshing to see them when they do show up.

  8. Great article. I tend to think a phased approach in allowing filtering first, followed up with lane splitting with some fairly tight criteria is the only way to go. Education for all is the key. Im optimistic that the Utah model f9r education could work here, but it seems there is just not enough political appetite to take something like this on.

    • (c) the individual is on a roadway with a speed limit of 45 miles per hour or less;
      (d) the vehicle being overtaken in the same lane is stopped;
      (e) the motorcycle is traveling at a speed of 15 miles per hour or less; and
      (f) the movement may be made safely.

      The recommendations are all very good as a first step.
      With the exception of (d) they make a lot of sense. Requiring stopped traffic limits the value a bit too much. I think filtering should be allowed when cars are in stop and go motion, up to about 20Kph, and bikes up to 30.

Join the conversation!