I was in California and saw motorcycles driving between lanes of traffic. It seems really, really unsafe. My buddy was in the car with me and said British Columbia and Ontario are in the process of legalizing this. Why? It seems like it would increase accidents because these bikes suddenly appear. I’ve tried to do a bit of Googling and see that it’s called both lane filtering and lane splitting. I still don’t see the benefits. – Jake, Vancouver
None of the provinces are making it legal for motorcycles to ride in between lanes of traffic – and many experts are stuck in the middle on whether that should change.
“Our stance is, we aren’t for or against lane filtering,” said David Millier, chair of the Motorcyclists Confederation of Canada (MCC). “But I don’t think lane splitting would even be considered here.”
When talking about riding in the middle lane, two words get used – lane splitting and lane filtering.
“They’re two totally different things – with lane splitting, traffic can be moving at 50 mph [80 km/h],” Millier said. “With lane filtering, traffic is barely moving or stopped.”
After years of unofficially allowing lane splitting, California officially legalized it this year.
Splitting and filtering aren’t allowed anywhere in Canada.
But the British Columbia Coalition of Motorcyclists (BCCOM) is writing to candidates in B.C.’s upcoming provincial election asking them to state their positions on lane filtering. They’re asking for bikes to be allowed to move ahead if traffic is going 25-30 km/h or less, as long as they do not go more than 10 km/h faster than everyone else.
“We want to see this practice brought in to keep motorcyclists from being rear-ended, to help get them to the front of the line where they will be more visible to motorists and so they have better visibility for themselves,” said Tara Borgstrom, BCCOM operations manager in an e-mail. “We’re also hoping it will aid in decreasing the ever-growing congestion here in the Lower Mainland.”
The idea is that motorcyclists would be able to move up – between cars going in the same direction – to the front of the line at stop lights.
Because bikes wouldn’t be sitting in the same lane as cars, there’d be less of a chance for rear-enders where cars didn’t see them. And, by freeing up that space in the lane, they’re actually making traffic flow better. But there’s not a lot of research.
Borgstrom points to a study by the Safe Transportation Research and Education Centre at the University of California, Berkeley, which reviewed traffic collisions.
It found that lane-splitting motorcyclists were less likely to suffer head injuries (9 per cent versus 17 per cent), torso injuries (19 per cent versus 29 per cent) or fatal injuries (1.2 per cent versus 3 per cent).
However, B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation said in an e-mail: “Based on the findings from our previous research, and with safety as our highest consideration, we do not currently permit this practice in British Columbia and have no plans to permit it.”.
In British Columbia, 65 per cent of motorcycle crashes involve other vehicles but 34 per cent involve the rider only, said the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia.
“Distracted driving and failing to yield the right-of-way are the top contributing factors for drivers in crashes with motorcyclists,” said ICBC spokeswoman Lindsay Olsen. “Distraction and speed are the top contributing factors for riders in [solo] crashes.”
She said 61 per cent of B.C. motorcycle crashes happen in intersections, adding that filtering adds potential problems. “Riding between vehicles reduces your space margins. It can also put you in drivers’ blind spots.”
Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation (MTO) said there “is insufficient safety research to support the introduction of lane splitting.”
“In addition, we are concerned that any potential safety benefit may be offset by an increased risk of side collisions or inappropriate behaviours, such as street racing or road rage,” MTO spokesman Bob Nichols said in an e-mail. “These risks would likely increase for inexperienced riders or if groups of motorcyclists were lane splitting or filtering.”
The Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) said it supports anything that keeps all motorists safer on the road.
“But lane-splitting is a ‘splitting’ (pun-intended) issue,” said Kristine D’Arbelles, CAA spokeswoman. “There are pros and cons to the manoeuvre.”
One concern is an increase in crashes – MCC’s Millier worries that cars could suddenly change lanes without looking to see whether a motorcyclist might be coming in between traffic. Splitting and filtering are common in Europe, but drivers here aren’t expecting it.
“As a car driver, you’re not used to looking far behind you to see if a motorcyclist might be coming down the middle, ” he said. “And I also think car drivers would just get resentful if they’re sitting in gridlock and motorcycles are zipping by – there’d have to be a big public-education component and it would have to be national.”
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