by Jason Liauw
Colleen Gibson, a safety expert with the Transport, Roads & Maritime Services, defines lane filtering as “when a vehicle passes a stationary vehicle or queue of vehicles”. Although this is a widely accepted practice in many European and Asian countries, she says “lane filtering is usually deemed illegal by police when performed on a motorbike”.
She says, “lane filtering is not specifically addressed under any of the guidelines contained in Road Rules 2008, however performing these actions can result in penalties for negligent and dangerous driving”.
“As a motorcyclist, I frequently filter through traffic to prevent being rear-ended by cars and avoid sitting in their potential blind spots” says Julian Ortiz, an experienced motorcylists who has held his unrestricted licence for over 10 years.
“I am not a hoon and always think safety first when riding. Filtering is beneficial to all road users by reducing traffic congestion through maximising unused space on roads. It is unfortunate that people do not see it this way in Australia. They think we are cutting in line and will sometimes purposely move over to block my path out of pure jealousy,” he says.
Mr Ortiz’s claim has been validated by Transport & Mobility, Leuven (TML), a Belgian transport specialist company that examined motorway congestion during peak hour traffic last year. The results show travel time can be reduced by up to 12 minutes per vehicle when 10 per cent of road users are riding motorcycles.
Mr Ortiz says he rides a motorcycle because he can easily fit between two cars and accelerate away with minimal effort and disruption to traffic. “Even if it is illegal, I will still lane filter due to the benefits of doing so. If I wanted to sit in a traffic queue, I would drive a car like everyone else”.
Jamie Ng, an Australian resident currently living in London, contrasts the differences in driver etiquette in Australia and the UK. “Filtering is a perfectly normal practice over here. Everyone does it and cars will move over to give you enough space,” he says. During his time in London, he has filtered past police cars on numerous occasions without being pulled over.
A comparative analysis of motorcycle accident data by Professor David Clarke, of the University of Nottingham, in 2004 found only 5 per cent of motorcycle accidents in London were due to lane filtering, with a majority being the fault of the car driver for failing to take proper precautions before merging.
Given the lack of legal laws about filtering in Australia, Jamie Ng says “technically lane filtering is not an illegal practice. Car drivers should change their attitudes and don’t assume that motorcyclists are impatient and cut in line”.
“At the end of the day we are doing you all a favour,” Mr Ng says. “We exchange the comforts of sitting in an air-conditioned car with 1.5 tonnes of steel protecting us in return for the ability to move through traffic faster, which works to your advantage as well”.
“Although it is clearly written in the UK Highway Code as being perfectly legal, riding a motorcycle is dangerous and you need to exercise common-sense and take care when doing it. This common-sense is what should be practised at all times, rather than trying to work out whether or not it is legal.
“The same rule applies to car drivers as well. Having a bad attitude and trying to cut a motorcyclist off out of spite can lead to an accident which should be avoided at all costs. Exercise common-sense and know that letting them through won’t cause you any harm,” he says.