Ontario: Lane Filtering vs Lane Splitting
In the wake of the ground breaking proposals adopted by the Toronto City Council at the end of June, it’s time to take a serious look at both lane filtering and lane splitting in Canada. The adopted proposals, developed by the Riders Training Institute, and submitted by Councillor Anthony Perruzza and Councillor Gary Crawford, would make Toronto roadways a safer place for motorcyclists. At a time when environmental concerns, traffic congestion and motorcycle fatalities are higher than they have been in a decade, I believe making our roadways more motorcycle friendly can benefit everyone.
There were 3 proposals submitted and adopted by the city council at the end of June. The first would see an expansion of motorcycle specific parking in the city. This would allow motorcyclists to park their bikes without fear of damage from other vehicles who fail to see them. The second would see an expansion of permitted vehicles in HOV lanes to include motorcycles. Since HOV lanes are designed to reduce traffic congestion by encouraging carpooling, including motorcycles in HOV lanes could encourage more people to ride motorcycles, thereby reducing traffic congestion. The third proposal that was adopted involves running a pilot project along Adelaide and Richmond which would allow motorcyclists to lane filter to the front of the intersection on red lights. It’s this third proposal that could have the biggest impact on motorcycle safety around the City of Toronto.
The proposals come after a record breaking number of motorcycle fatalities in Ontario in 2017. Sadly, there were 47 motorcycle fatalities by the end of October 2017. That’s 11 more than the previous year and 20 more than in 2012. It’s clear that this trend needs to be reversed which is why it’s great to see the City of Toronto breaking away from the status quo and leading the way to make Ontario roadways safer for motorcyclists.
Lane Filtering vs Lane Splitting
It’s important to know the difference between lane filtering and lane splitting. The two are very similar in certain respects, which makes things confusing. On top of that, the terms are often used interchangeably, which makes things even more confusing. Both lane filtering and lane splitting take advantage of a motorcycles smaller size and allow them to move in between other vehicles in traffic. The difference is that lane filtering is done at the stop lights when traffic is stopped, while lane splitting is done when traffic is moving at low speed.
Lane filtering is when a motorcycle moves in between traffic at a stop light to the front of the line. The benefits of lane filtering include both motorcycle safety and reduced traffic congestion. The biggest cause of serious motorcycle injuries and fatalities is when a motorcyclist is hit from behind in traffic. If motorcycles are allowed to move in between the other vehicles to the front of the line, this would automatically reduce the number of these dangerous and unnecessary accidents.
An added benefit of lane filtering is that, since the motorcycle is no longer taking up an entire space in line, the traffic congestion is reduced for everyone. Less traffic congestion means shorter wait times and less pollution from idling traffic. In my opinion, lane filtering is a no brainer. It’s a win-win for everyone.
Lane splitting, on the other hand, is a little more controversial. Lane splitting is when a motorcycle moves in between other vehicles while traffic is moving. A lot of people mistakenly think that this would create a motorcycle free-for-all out on the highways. After all, we’ve all seen those videos on You Tube of some jack-ass speeding through traffic in between other vehicles.
The reality is that lane splitting, when done properly, removes motorcyclists from one of the most dangerous traffic situations. The American Motorcycle Association report on lane splitting states: “Perhaps one of the most dangerous situations for any on-highway motorcyclist is being caught in congested traffic, where stop-and-go vehicles, distracted and inattentive vehicle operators, and environmental conditions pose an increased risk of physical contact with another vehicle or hazard. Even minor contact under such conditions can be disastrous for motorcyclists.”
And no, lane splitting won’t turn our roadways into some Mad-Max-like anarchist hell-scape. In places where lane splitting is legal, like California, England, Australia, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, China, Japan… you get the point; there are numerous rules and guidelines surrounding the practice to make sure it’s safe for everyone on the road. And while a small percentage of riders might not follow the rules, the large majority of them are not going to ride in a way that puts their life at unnecessary risk. After all, that’s the main point of lane splitting. Safety.
Firstly, lane splitting is only done when the speed of traffic falls below a certain point. In Australia, for example, the guidelines state that lane splitting should only be done when the speed of traffic falls below 30 km/h. California, on the other hand, states that lane splitting should not be done above 30 mph, or just under 50km/h. So legal lane splitting is not something that is done while traffic is moving at full speed.
Secondly, there are guidelines for the differential of speed between the motorcycle and other traffic. In California, the guidelines state that there should be no more than 10mph (16km/h) difference in speed between the motorcycle and the vehicles they are passing. This ensures that you don’t end up with situations where riders are flying in between other vehicles, putting everybody at risk. If you want to see a perfect example of lane splitting done correctly, you can watch this video of two police motorcycles lane splitting in England.
As you can see in the above video, there is nothing crazy or dangerous about lane splitting when it’s done correctly. The other vehicles are moving at a slow pace and the motorcycles are maintaining a reasonable speed as they move through traffic. A 2015 study from the University of California at Berkeley states that, “Lane-splitting riders were less likely to suffer head injury (9% vs 17%), torso injury (19% vs 29%), extremity injury (60% vs 66%), and fatal injury (1.2% vs 3.0%).” On top of that, because the motorcycles are no longer taking up a space in line, traffic congestion is reduced for all drivers.
These adopted proposals by the city council will help make our Ontario roadways safer for motorcyclists. This is why it’s so encouraging to see the City of Toronto leading the way and taking such proactive steps towards motorcycle safety. These new rules will also encourage more people to start riding motorcycles, which will improve traffic wait times for everyone, as well as cut down on Ontario’s carbon footprint.
Personally, I am in favour of legalizing both lane filtering and lane splitting, and leaving it up to the individual rider to decide whether or not they want to do it. Just because it’s legal, doesn’t make it mandatory. Hopefully, this trial run in Toronto will pave the way to legalized lane filtering in all of Ontario. Once motorists get used to motorcycles filtering in between traffic, then legal lane splitting will be the next step.
As for the drivers out there who are against both of them; they’ve probably never been in a potentially fatal accident because some driver failed to see them sitting in their lane; they’ve probably never felt the nerve wrenching tension of watching the person behind them stare at their cell phone in stop and go traffic; and they’ve probably never sat on top of a 300 degree engine for an hour in a construction delay wearing leather gear on a hot summer day.
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