VIEWPOINT - A Case for Lane Filtering
Currently in BC, motorcycles are required to sit in traffic like any other automobile is expected to, but this is very dangerous for motorcyclists! The solution is 'lane filtering', a practice vilified by the general driving public in much of North America. Almost anywhere else in the world, you will see motorcyclists navigating traffic by going between rows of vehicles, or passing in the on-coming lane (a widely accepted maneuver while traffic is stopped). I'm not sure how the law got to be the way it is in Canada, but the fact is that as it currently stands, the law forcing motorcycles to sit in traffic does a disservice to everyone on the road.
Lane filtering is considered slow moving, up to a speed of 30km/h, and is seen as a harmless riding technique around the world. Lane splitting on the other hand is defined as moving through traffic at speeds of higher than 30km/h, and is generally considered to be a riskier riding technique. I'm advocating for support of Filtering. Here's why the practice deserves consideration:
There have been many studies done in recent years by reputable institutions around the world which ALL support lane filtering. According to a study by Rice, Troszak and Erhardt at the University of California Berkeley, motorcyclists are almost 3x more likely to be killed while NOT [filtering], they suffer more injuries, with those injuries being more severe than motorcyclists involved in accidents while [filtering] [UC Berkeley Pg. 25].
According to an AUSTroads study on motorcycle accidents, rear end collisions were the most common type of accident involving multiple vehicles, by a factor of 4x[AUSTroads Pg.50]. Here's an example of the kind of accident that can easily be avoided with legal filtering. Furthermore, in a Belgian study by traffic firm TM Leuven, Yperman states that if only 10% of commuters switched to motorcycles and filtered, commute times would be reduced by up to 40%, and emissions would be reduced by up to 6% due to improved traffic flow! [TM Leuven Pg. 27, 41]
In a RidetoWork report Kurlantzik and Krosner state that "The studies unanimously assert that lane [filtering] is safer than riding in slow moving or stopped traffic as it reduces the frequency of motorcycle crashes in traffic and significantly reduces the severity of injuries received in those crashes. [RidetoWork Pg.4]
If there are so many benefits to be gained, why is filtering illegal? When I asked the Ministry of Transportation, their email response claims that there are "safety concerns" about lane filtering, which are: 1) That road users could lane change into a rider, 2) that a door may be opened into a rider, and 3) that there may be road rage because someone is "queue jumping". However, when filtering is done in a responsible manner, these concerns are moot. For one, it is already illegal for drivers to make lane changes without "signalling for sufficient time," which clearly indicates that responsibility lies with the lane-changer to be adequately aware of his or her surroundings, and to provide adequate notice, before exiting their lane. It is also illegal to open a door in traffic while on the roadway, and while parked they must ensure it is safe to do so before opening a door. In places where filtering is legal, motorcyclists very rarely experience road rage related to filtering, as drivers are educated to look twice for filtering bikes. Overall, drivers understand that every motorcycle that filters is one less car in their traffic queue!
If I had to choose between the possibility that someone might merge into me while on a motorcycle, and being rear ended, I would choose being merged into any day, 100% of the time. This is because while filtering, you can see into drivers' mirrors, and can read the "body language" of their vehicle. It is possible to see "tells" that a vehicle is going to lane change before they actually do it, and so it is possible to formulate a plan and have contingency strategies for if/when it happens. We're educated as drivers in Canada to use defensive driving techniques to successfully navigate complex intersections and challenging interactive dynamics in a car; the techniques are not so different in a motorcycle assessing traffic, except we are denied the privilege of using these life-saving measures. Also, if a motorcycle is filtering between lines of active traffic, there should be an extremely small risk of someone opening a door. In this, there are tools that motorcyclists can use to adapt to the dynamics of the situation, such as adjusting speed and making oneself more conspicuous by "blipping" the throttle.
The reason the Ministry has "safety concerns" about this is I believe somewhat tied to the road rage aspect. Road rage at motorcyclists is largely a byproduct of the quality of education drivers receive about other vehicles on the road. This lack of education may frustrate a driver if they see a motorcycle coming up in their mirror, and cause them to open their door purposely, which is illegal, and may constitute assault with a deadly weapon. However, when the motorcycle is filtering at a responsible speed, even if someone opens their door, the risk of personal injury is not very high; a door is a relatively flimsy obstacle compared with 500lbs+ of Bike. Consider this analogy to compare the impact of the law on motorcyclists' everyday safety decisions: Would you rather run into a brick wall as fast as you feel comfortable going? Or would you rather have a fully laden 3,000lb garbage dumpster crush you into the brick wall from behind?
I know what I and many other riders already choose on a daily basis. Speaking on a daily basis, how many times when traffic is bad do you already see motorcycles riding the shoulder? I personally ride ATGATT (All The Gear All The Time), and when it's summer and the temperature is +-30 degrees, if I am not moving I am absolutely sweating like a pig! Inside my gear it gets easily 5-10 degrees hotter than the outside air temperature. My commute isn't that long and there were still occasions when I started seeing stars and feeling light headed, thankfully after I had arrived home! However what if my commute was longer? Would it be better for me to pass out on the road, causing a traffic jam, or potentially causing myself bodily harm, or both all for the sake of the law? The proper gear REQUIRES air flow, so to sit motionless for too long is a danger not just to myself but for everyone around me.
BCCOM (British Columbia Coalition of Motorcyclists) is putting forth another proposal in 2017 to make lane filtering a legitimate method for riders to navigate traffic, and I hope that reason wins this time. It would save lives, time, and stress for everyone. Plus, I would finally feel okay to sell my car and go motorcycle-only. We have to make difficult choices in a split second on the road every day. It would be best for everyone if we could make those decisions without the cognitive dissonance from laws that are based more on fear of motorcycles than fact.
In summary: Riding a motorcycle is a riskier endeavor than driving a car, but it is a lifestyle choice that I'm happy to live with. However, all motorcyclists are under more risk than they need to be, due to one small misunderstood aspect of driving in traffic! Traffic which is not getting any better despite ambitious plans for bigger bridges. Traffic is also not getting any safer for the time being, with distracted drivers at every intersection and reports of motorcyclists getting rear-ended, it is only a matter of time until I am caught in an impossible dilemma: do I let myself get hit or do I take evasive maneuvers and filter between the cars? Can you believe that it is against Canadian law for me to make the obvious choice to avoid getting hit? Studies conducted around the world have unanimously come to the conclusion that "filtering" is safer for motorcyclists, reduces congestion and emissions, and makes motorcycles the most efficient way to get around large urban centers. The "safety concerns" held by the Ministry are not up to conventional standards of evidence given the recent wealth of studies available to everyone.
- Affum, Chong, Milling, Taylor. "Infrastructure Improvements to Reduce Motorcycle Casualties." Austroads.
- Australasian Road Transport and Traffic Agency, nd. Web PDF File. 6 November 2016
- Rice, Troszak, Erhardt. "Motorcycle Lane-Splitting and Safety in California." California Office of Traffic Safety.
- Safe Transport Centre at University of California Berkeley, n.d. Web PDF File. 6 November. 2016
- "Motorcycle Lane Filtering Trial." New South Wales Centre for Road Safety.
- New South Wales Government, nd. 6 November. 2016.
- CLEPA Euro study: http://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/trans/doc/2009/wp29grrf/AEBS-LDW-02-05e.pdf