Varied lane filtering laws explained

lane splitting lane filtering laws

Lane filtering laws now extend to four states and one territory in Australia and lane splitting in California in the US, but more states may be coming on board and the laws vary.

It makes it difficult for nomadic riders to avoid offending if the laws vary slightly in each state.

While we welcome lane filtering laws, shouldn’t they all be the same?

How can riders be expected to know all the vagaries of traffic laws in each state?

Australian Motorcycle Council representative Guy Stanford believes uniform road rules will happen … one day.

Guy Stanford - Mobile phone while riding - darrk visor helmets filtering laws
Guy and his V-Strom

“It’s a complex process to get state agreement on road rules,” he says.

The problem is that states are possessive of their road rules because it is one of the few things over which they retained power after Federation.

Guy was invited by the National Transport Commission to address the Australian Road Rules Maintenance Advisory Group which is attempting to make road rules uniform across all states.

While varied lane filtering laws have been introduced, Guy says uniform rules about standing on the foot pegs and pushing a bike without having to wear a helmet have recently been introduced, so there is hope.

How the lane filtering laws varyLane filtering laws

Let’s start with how they are similar.

Every law includes wording that says something like “only allowed when safe to do so”.

Guy says this vagueness means police can use their opinion to fine riders.

“That is sloppy legislation wording and it can mean fines for safe filtering,” he says.

“And like the confused helmet laws, cops can use the road rules to harass riders.”

Other similar lane-filtering regulations are:

  • The maximum filtering speed is 30km/h;
  • Filtering is banned in school zones during school times;
  • Filtering is illegal between a vehicle and the kerb; and
  • Filtering is restricted to fully licensed riders only, not learners or provisional licensed riders (except P plates in Victoria and R-Date in SA).Lane filtering laws tailgater

The biggest differences are in Queensland which allows riders to use the “green bicycle box” at intersections and permits “edge filtering”.

The latter means riders can use the sealed verge on roads posted at 90km/h or more.

Perversely, if the electronic speed signs drop the speed limit under 90km/h – usually during peak hours when you are more likely to filter on these roads, anyway – it is illegal.

The ACT trial bans filtering next to heavy vehicles and buses, while it is only a recommendation in NSW and not mentioned in Queensland, Victoria or South Australia.

South Australia and Victoria specifically mention that lane filtering is banned at crossings and roundabouts which are not mentioned in the other states’ rules.

Victoria also uses signs saying “no motorcycle lane filtering sign” to delineate areas where it is banned.

American lane splittingLane filtering laws lane splitting

Meanwhile, California is the first American state to allow lane splitting.

In the lead-up to the Californian legislation, there were recommendations of a top speed of 30mph (48km/h) and 50mph (80km/h) and not more than 10mph (16km/h) and 15mph (25km/h) faster than the traffic flow.

However, the law has only “general guidelines”, recommendations and no mandatory top speed.

Instead, lane splitting is monitored by the California Highway Patrol (CHiPs) and only allowed when it is “safe and prudent”.

American moto journalist Robin Hartfiel of Motorcycle and Powersport News says there is still plenty of room for interpretation of the laws. 

“The vehicle code change last year gave the California Highway Patrol the authority to establish guidelines for lane splitting,” he says.

“Although CHP had done this once before about five years ago, someone filed a complaint that the CHP producing guidelines was de facto lawmaking and CHP had to pull it all down.

“The new guidelines are in development from what I understand and the speed differential you referenced is part of this process, along with only splitting between the one and two lanes.” 

The law does, however, include fines for motorists for “intentionally blocking or impeding a motorcyclist in a way that could cause harm to the rider” such as opening a door or moving over on a rider.

We could do with that one in Australia! Instead, we have fines for riders only.

The fines are now almost $400 and three points. Previously they were about $150 and one point for passing on the left and $75 and no points for failure to stay in your lane.

However, due to representation by the Victorian Motorcycle Council (VMC), Victoria has introduced a low-level 1-point penalty for minor exceeding of the 30km/h limit while filtering.  Other Australian States, please take note!

Other states of the US, including Texas, Washington, Tennessee and Oregon, and British Columbia and Ontario in Canada are considering introducing lane splitting laws but with varied maximum splitting speeds and variances with surrounding traffic.

15 Comments

  1. John Burrill says:
    16th January, 2018 at 2:59 pm
    Hi Mark
    I’d like to challenge you on a couple of things. A motorcycle, or any other vehicle for that matter, is allowed to travel to the left of a stationary vehicle or row of vehicles. It may not be called ‘lane filtering’ but it is perfectly legal. Check section 141(1)(c) of the Queensland Road Rules. To clarify, paragraph (a) is for if overtaking to the left in lanes, para (c) is for when there are no lanes marked. So far as I’m aware this rule is the same or similar in all states and territories.
    The assumption that it’s illegal to lane filter between a turning lane and a straight ahead lane is simply not true. The DTMR have made a serious mistake in saying this manoeuvre is illegal. It’s quite a complex topic but the essence of the mistake is saying that traffic in an adjacent ‘left turn only’ lane is not ‘travelling in the same direction’ as the traffic to the right of the lane. This is absolutely not the case. Both lanes of vehicles are travelling in the same direction… until the vehicles enter the intersection. Maybe we could discuss this further if you’re interested.

    John
    That’s the bit I don’t understand to me both vehicles have to move forward into the intersection where one will turn left and one goes straight ahead, by that time I am in front of the vehicle going straight ahead and in the lane, that’s why I don’t see what the problem could be.

    1. Hi Skip. I agree… there is no added danger involved with lane filtering beside a queue of vehicles that is turning left. Another example that illustrates this anomaly is on the terminating road at a T-intersection. If there are two lanes and one is marked exclusive left turn and the other exclusive right turn… you are apparently not allowed to filter at all!! I say you are allowed to filter and then make a left or right turn safely. The rules do not prohibit you from doing this. There is a lot more evidence to show how silly this ruling is but I’ll leave it there for now.

  2. Good to see you didnt bother with WA. The filtering rules are so vague that you can filter anyway you like unless Plod taskes a dislike to you

      1. So to answer his question the answer is no in all states and territories other than QLD and yes you can in QLD if the speed limit on the road is 90km/h or above.
        But I am still unsure if you are at an intersection and you are stopped at lights between two cars, the intersection could have one lane separate from the direction you are heading so before the intersection you were between cars and on the other side of the intersection you would be between the kerb and a car (but you would accelerate across the intersection to be in front of the car on the other side) is that legal or not ??????

        1. Hi again,
          In this case, the lane to your left is most likely a turning lane only.
          If that is the case, you are NOT allowed to filter between the lanes.
          I can’t see a situation where two lanes becoming one at an intersection could happen without the left lane being a turn-left-only lane.
          Does that clear that up?
          Cheers,
          Mark

          1. Hi Mark
            I’d like to challenge you on a couple of things. A motorcycle, or any other vehicle for that matter, is allowed to travel to the left of a stationary vehicle or row of vehicles. It may not be called ‘lane filtering’ but it is perfectly legal. Check section 141(1)(c) of the Queensland Road Rules. To clarify, paragraph (a) is for if overtaking to the left in lanes, para (c) is for when there are no lanes marked. So far as I’m aware this rule is the same or similar in all states and territories.
            The assumption that it’s illegal to lane filter between a turning lane and a straight ahead lane is simply not true. The DTMR have made a serious mistake in saying this manoeuvre is illegal. It’s quite a complex topic but the essence of the mistake is saying that traffic in an adjacent ‘left turn only’ lane is not ‘travelling in the same direction’ as the traffic to the right of the lane. This is absolutely not the case. Both lanes of vehicles are travelling in the same direction… until the vehicles enter the intersection. Maybe we could discuss this further if you’re interested.

  3. I have always found that in banked up traffic on a motorway it is safer to ride between the cars and the left hand edge of the road. In this instance I believe we should be allowed to pass slowly on the left. Fair enough to say it would be more dangerous in city situations.

  4. “The law does, however, include fines for motorists for “intentionally blocking or impeding a motorcyclist in a way that could cause harm to the rider” such as opening a door or moving over on a rider.
    We could do with that one in Australia! Instead, we have fines for riders only.”

    +1 on that! Especially in Sydney, where it has been my experience that around 80% of motorists are indifferent, 10% will move to allow you more room, and 10% will actively try and block you. And if you are going to filter to the front at the lights, make sure you are on a reasonably powerful bike as there is always that percentage of idiot drivers that will try and beat you off the lights and force you into the kerb or other lane. I’m not suggesting that we race them btw, because that is illegal. But be ready to accelerate out of trouble if holding back puts you in danger.

    1. NSW does have a generic law against blocking the flow if traffic but has anyone ever seen it used against a car moving over to block a bike that is legally filtering?

      SUMMARY OFFENCES ACT 1988 – SECT 6
      Obstructing traffic
      6 Obstructing traffic

      A person shall not, without reasonable excuse (proof of which lies on the person), wilfully prevent, in any manner, the free passage of a person, vehicle or vessel in a public place.

      Maximum penalty: 4 penalty units.

  5. While there are some efficiencies to be had in having states, road rules are not one of them. One country; one set of road rules.

  6. The lane filtering/splitting bill in Washington is being held in the House Transportation Committee by chairwoman, Judy Clibborn. It will not be considered this year, due to poorly worded language.

    I contacted the prime sponsor, Tim Sheldon, and asked if he was considering an amendment, but was told that they won’t be amending it unless they know what to write.

    All attempts to reach Judy Clibborn have been unsuccessful. Her office is not answering their phone, nor are they returning calls.

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