800px-Lane_Splitting_on_the_Bridge
alan katkich

alan katkich

Lane Filtering: A Way Forward?

Within every hobby or passion pursuit, there lies a topic that is contentious. A topic where opinions seem to be a little more heated and steadfast than anything else relating to it. Motorcycling is no different.

The topic of lane filtering is one that has its detractors as well as its supporters. Both are equally sure their view on the topic is valid and full of merit. Usually these opinions are backed up with statistics or at the very least anecdotal evidence that validates their claim.

It’s a topic I myself have pondered many times and have had discussions about. It’s a topic I happen to have an opinion on as well. 

I support lane filtering. The key word here is filtering. This is not to be confused with splitting. Words matter and the agreed upon definition of each is not to be confused with one another.

What is Lane Splitting? 

Lane splitting, also termed white lining, is the act of passing slower moving traffic in at least a two lane scenario, by riding in between vehicles. Or as the term implies, up the white line. The operative word here is moving traffic. Which begs the next question.

What is Filtering?

The act of filtering is the same as lane splitting in that you are passing vehicles by going up in between lanes. The difference being that traffic is stopped. So imagine a red light or a traffic jam.

The Case For Lane Filtering

I’ll start by saying that making the argument for lane splitting is difficult. It’s not that I’m against it in any particular way. It’s that I feel the benefits that filtering delivers are sufficient.  Adding splitting to the conversation provides a net zero gain in my opinion.  Splitting adds the dimension of moving traffic. This is just too difficult for many to wrap their head around.

My main reason in supporting filtering laws is that, simply put, it will reduce traffic congestion. It’s a fact. Today, 55% of the world’s population lives in an urban center. That number is only expected to climb higher in the coming decades. In a world where all the talk centers around sustainability, carbon footprint and the need to get people from A to B more efficiently, I can’t for the life of me understand why the motorcycle isn’t looked at as at least part of the solution.

Therein lies a problem. There are not enough people on motorcycles in North America. After all these years it is still looked upon as this dangerous, outcast of the transportation world. This misconception is more prevalent here than anywhere else. With not enough people on motorcycles, there are not enough that can speak to its benefits in a fact based, rational manner. I would also say unbiased manner as all. Motorcyclists use automobiles as well as bikes while the same can not be said of all car drivers. 

Studies have shown that lane filtering can in fact be a viable solution to our congestion problems. By allowing bikes to filter up to the front of the line at a stop you are creating more space. Why complain about traffic issues in your city when you are not even utilizing all the road surface available in an efficient manner? The average urban street lane width in the USA is 10 feet . To require a motorcycle to behave in a lane the same as a car must, is a missed opportunity to address this pressing issue and very shortsighted.  By allowing a motorcycle to utilize all the road surface available to them in a safe and controlled manner benefits all motorists. As motorcycles and even mopeds filter through the stopped traffic towards the front, it allows the drivers behind to move forward as well. Is this not the basis of congestion reduction?

Vehicle TypeLength Width
Car15 Feet6 Feet
Full Size Suv18 Feet7 Feet
Motorcycle7 Feet2.6 Feet

It doesn’t end there though. The ability of a motorcycle to accelerate through the intersection once the light turns green is done so much more quickly and efficiently than a larger vehicle. Again, therefore creating more space. 

Motorcycles are able to accelerate better due to their superior power to weight ratio. 

Simply put, Motorcycles are more efficient with the power they produce therefore they can move a person using a smaller engine. A smaller engine means less fuel. Less fuel means it’s better for emissions or smog in a city. But I digress. Back to filtering. Let’s look at the facts

Safety

The biggest argument that supporters use in the filtering argument is that you are less likely to be rear ended if you are able to filter in between cars. 

In researching this article, one thing was abundantly clear. It’s near impossible to come up with a definitive set of metrics to sway the argument either for or against filtering as far as safety is concerned.

Many studies have been done.

The MAIDS report which studied motorcycle accidents in four countries which filtering was legal and one where it was not. Conclusion? No discernible difference. Meaning the study found it did not contribute or prevent accidents.

The famous Hurt report of 1981 found no distinction between the safety or danger of filtering.

The NHTSA does say that based on the HURT report, they believe there is a “slight” reduction of rear end collisions on motorcycles.

The biggest obstacle in filtering being implemented in North America is culture

Many other studies came to the same murky conclusions. My feeling is this is a result of politics and who is funding these studies.

Overall the safety of filtering is inconclusive. I will say this, If filtering was indeed a dangerous practice, It would be shown to be very conclusive. 

Perception

The biggest obstacle in filtering being implemented in North America is culture.

There is a very big difference in how motorcycles are accepted into the automotive landscape in Europe and Asia than in North America. 

There is a very real risk of elevated road rage incidents if filtering is permitted. North American drivers are not okay with the perception of being pushed to the back of the line while in their cars. Contrast that with much of Europe where it is not uncommon to see cars trying to move over and allow space for faster moving motorcycles to move ahead of them. In Asia, It’s simply a fact of everyday life. Two wheels and four wheels share the road on equal terms. 

How do we get this perception to change? We need more motorcycles on the road. The incentive to enact sensible filtering laws just isn’t there. Motorcycles make up less that 5% of vehicles on the road in the USA. At that number they just are not seen as an important enough attribute in fighting congestion. Although that number has been climbing in recent years. There is a great opportunity for the industry to come together and promote motorcycling to the millennial buyer. With societal and environmental issues at the forefront of debates right now, we must promote the benefits of this transportation option. With cars being as expensive to purchase and maintain as they are. With the environment and congestion being an every day issue. Now is the time to promote motorcycling as our best option that is available this very day that we can utilize to alleviate these issues. One of those incentives should be the ability to get from A to B faster and cheaper than a car. If enable commuters to filter their way through city traffic every morning and make it to work or wherever faster, then it’s likely more would want that advantage in their life. This includes mopeds as well by.

It takes time to change perceptions yet it never stops us from trying it before in many aspects of our society. From using wind and solar to power our homes. The use of electric cars, perceptions change over time. I believe the industry needs to do a better job of getting governments to recognize how the motorcycle can address our challenges. More importantly these transportation benefits need to be better promoted to the millennial buyer as a viable way forward today.

Conclusion

The arguments against filtering are weak in my opinion. One common argument you hear is it’s harder to determine who is at fault in an accident. This is more an issue of a lack of dealing with and experience in these scenarios. This will likely change over time. Another is that it put the motorcyclist at fault in most if not all accidents. Ok, even if this is the case, this is a decision for the rider to make. Nobody said that just because filtering is legal that it must be used by all riders at all times.

We need a culture shift in the perception of motorcycles. Lets get rid of the outlaw stereotype and start promoting two wheels as a way forward. Lets promote it as a solution to our environmental and congestion concerns that’s available to us today. Let’s embrace that solution, rider or not.

With more motorcycles on the road, motorcycling can become safer as more car drivers are familiar with the sight of a motorcycle and actually look for them. By privileging motorcycles with more leeway through traffic, this can incentivize motorcycles as a great commuter option. 

We do this with bicycles without hesitation. We build bike lanes and awareness campaigns. As we should, but cycling is not for everyone so lets up the ante on other options as well.  

I believe filtering can be done in a safe manner if strict protocols are followed. One being that traffic must be at a stop. This puts the rider in more control of his surroundings. The other being that it should be done with a set speed limit. This would keep any potential accident to a paint scratch or a broken signal light at worst. It can be done safely and effectively. The reason we know this is that many other countries in this world do it.  

There is nothing wrong with reaching for the sky in addressing environmental and urban concerns. We should and we will. In the meantime lets not overlook answers that are available today and will benefit all in the end.

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