When I first jumped on the back of my friend's motorcycle, I was aghast when he would weave in and out of traffic, often creating a lane of his own between two cars. I could see the disdain on drivers' faces as we zipped passed their cars. "Are you allowed to do that?", I asked when we hit the stop light.
"Absolutely," he said. "Lane filtering is legal."
Being fully aware that my friend is neither a police officer nor a legal expert, I knew that claim would need to be verified.
For those unfamiliar with the official terminology, lane filtering is when you ride a motorcycle at low speeds between two lanes of slow moving or stationary traffic. Motorcycle riders have been doing it for years and it has been a source of consternation to car drivers. For one, some drivers don't expect to see a motorcycle pop up right next to them and inexperienced riders will sometimes whack a car's side mirror as they roll down between lanes.
For motorcycle riders, being able to skip past an endless stream of cars at a red light is just so convenient and makes living in highly congested areas bearable. If you're nimble enough to guide your motorcycle safely in between lanes, why not? Nothing beats the glorious feeling of skipping to the front of the line.
The good news is, lane filtering is now legal in New South Wales and Queensland. The Australian Capital Territory is currently running a trial before committing to legalising it while Victoria is holding a public consultation on the matter. Each of those states have varying conditions for lane filtering but the general rule is riders must be on a full motorcycle driver's licence and must keep their speed under 30km/h while riding between lanes.
With that said, there were never any laws specifically prohibiting lane filtering beforehand, but there weren't any clear rules around the practice either. Now that some states have moved to formalise lane filtering, it will give motorcyclists guidelines to do so in a safe way. Riders should pay extra attention when they do lane filter as car doors can fly open in front of them or pedestrians dart in their path when they least expect it.
As for the states that have yet to jump on board, there is mounting pressure from motorcycle groups to legalise lane filtering.
Please bear in mind that lane splitting -- that is, riding a motorcycle at high speed between two rows of moving traffic -- is still a no-no, which is probably for the best unless you're looking to ride your way into an early grave. Lane splitting is still considered to be highly dangerous even by the states that have legalised lane filtering, so don't do that either.
Ride safe, guys!