Is It Legal To Lane Filter On A Motorcycle?

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.

Photo: Miramax

"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!

Did you just catch yourself wondering if something was legal or not? Let us know and we may be able to answer it in our next Is It Legal? feature.

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Comments

    Good post! Plenty of people seem to have missed the memo that this is legal where I live (NSW). It's also a timely reminder to check your mirrors before changing lanes in slow moving traffic, and before you open your door if you park on the side or a road (although that's more for cyclists).

      Thank you!

      I agree, a lot of people are still unaware that lane filtering is legal in some states. I hope this article will be informative to car drivers so they can stop giving motorcyclists death stares when they do lane filter!

        We only do it because we are jealous. Who wouldn't want to be at the front of every traffic lights?

          I (used to) ride motorcycles, and I still have that half-second of rage when someone filters past my car. It is 100% jealousy.

            Every time I see it happen I cry with anguish, I miss my bike...

          Surely that jealousy subsides very quickly when you realise you're in a toasty warm and dry car while motorcyclists are out in the freezing cold wind/rain during winter. Damn. Why did I ever sell my car to get a bike again!? hahaha!
          Being from SA I'm not even allowed to filter :(

            Oh man... I remember riding in the rain for the first time. No wet weather gear. Pretty sure I cried the whole way home.

              Its all part of the fun. The worst ride I've ever done was just above 0c, misty, wet fog in large sections, wind-chill that put my testicles in my chest, and I was still shivering 2-hours after getting home.

              I'm still glad I was on the bike. :)

            I agree, this winter has been quite cold (on the bike) even in QLD!

        They still will.

        It's the driving version of that one guy who just wants to hand in a form at the post office. He isn't hurting anyone or even holding up the line in any way but we still think "Look at this sod, trying to cut in...why doesn't he get in line, I'm gonna say something.....no it's too late he's leaving, better give him disapproving looks"

          In defence of those people, i've been that person a few times, though i did my diligence, i lined up , got to the front, had to make a small correction or something, and they say come back to the front when you've fixed it up, keeps the line moving.

        informative to car drivers so they can stop giving motorcyclists death stares when they do lane filter!
        Or hurl abuse
        Or move their car to block.

      Even though motorists should always check their mirror when they are opening the door, filtering with a lane of parked traffic on one side is still illegal. You can only filter between 2 lanes of moving traffic/stationary traffic, not next to parked cars.

      From http://roadsafety.transport.nsw.gov.au/stayingsafe/motorcyclists/lanefiltering/faqs.html#faq11 :-

      To minimise safety risks, lane filtering is:

      Only allowed when safe to do so
      Not allowed at a speed greater than 30km/h
      Only allowed by fully licensed riders (i.e. riders on their L or P plates will not be allowed to lane filter)
      Not allowed in a school zone during school zone hours
      Not allowed next to the kerb or parked vehicles.

        Yes you are completely correct. I was referring more to looking for cyclists, who do ride between moving and parked cars.

        Filtering beside parked cars is only illegal in NSW. Sadly single-lane roads are also the places you need to filter.

        As scary as it seems, QLD seems to have the saner filtering laws, aimed at increasing traffic flow, rather than just limiting locations where filtering can occur. Who would have thought it from the same state as the VLAD laws.

    Over the years I have noticed more drivers are acknowledging and providing space for riders in WA. And then one moron comes along changes lanes without looking.

    Although not officially legalised in Victoria, you'll likely find police don't mind it if done respectfully. Have often filtered past cop cars or filtered to the front next to a motorcycle cop - not a word!

      Good call. I've done it myself in SA. Was unlucky enough once to pull up next to an officer at the front of the lights and he politely reminded me that it wasn't legal in SA and to stay safe. Other officers I'd filtered past never look twice.

    I see a lot of motorbikers doing the right thing and merging in when the traffic moves quicker, but I'm waiting to see a biker get taken out by staying in the middle of the lane and swapping quickly in the middle of Sydney traffic.

      I'll filter through slow moving traffic, but once my speed hits 30-40km/h I'm into the lane properly.

    As long as you're savvy about how to filter/split properly, its quite safe. I only filter on non-motorways through stationary traffic, on motorways I split/filter. Sticking under 30km/h doesn't actually work as it only gets you a little faster than slow traffic which I think is dangerous - around the 40km/h mark is actually feels safer to me.

    Commute-wise, since you use the same route at the same times of day you can determine "toey" zones where cagers seem extra jumpy - don't split there. Also, don't split/filter if the traffic is slowed in an area that is unusual for that time of day - cagers seem to get a bit panicky and so jumpy.

    Another point worth making is that (in QLD) you can filter on motorways where the posted limit is 90km/h or greater, as long as you stick to a maximum of 30km/h. Now, the "posted" limit can actually change if there as variable speed limit signs. Technically, if those things flash 60 - you can't filter anymore. Its a technicality, but those black-hearted brigands in police uniforms could still ping you for it.

    Riders should pay extra attention when they do lane filter as car doors can fly open in front of them Don't filter to the left, pretty sure it's illegal in NSW and ACT.

    or pedestrians might dart in their path when they least expect it.
    Generally motorcycles are higher, but you should be cautious if filtering past a 4wd/SUV or Van. Illegal to filter past heavy vehicles in the ACT so that's not a worry.

      By default you'd automatically be on someone's left when filtering....

        •not allowed on the kerbside next to a footpath or in bicycle lanes or breakdown lanes;
        http://www.justice.act.gov.au/page/view/3733/title/act-lane-filtering-trial

        Last edited 17/08/15 8:57 pm

      I was more referring to people that randomly open car doors in the middle of traffic to check something in the boot, etc. It has happened to me before.

        Goddamn, I've never seen that level of stupidity.

          Also to let passengers out, or to change drivers, or... just because

      I've always personally referred to the "left-gutter side" as the "sui-side"...

      Last edited 18/08/15 4:29 pm

    It is illegal to filter to the left or right in the ACT - it must be between two lanes of traffic only.

      Right is fine on a single lane road, not a dual / triple carriageway.

      •not allowed on the kerbside next to a footpath or in bicycle lanes or breakdown lanes;

      Last edited 17/08/15 8:56 pm

    Good article and thanks for pointing out that it's not illegal in most states (sorry SA!), but I think you're missing the point of lane filtering/splitting. The point of doing it is not to "skip past an endless stream of cars at a red light"; it's to avoid the careless car driver updating his/her (insert relevant social media) profile whilst approaching traffic and running into the back of the motorcycle. There should be plenty of evidence on YouTube to suggest that sitting at the back of a line of cars in traffic is recipe for disaster for any bike. I think there is also a study recently to indicate that it's safer practice to filter to the front in stationary traffic.

    When filtering in moving traffic, I find that it's only safe to do so when cars are slow moving, i.e. 20-40 km/h. Any faster and there should be no problem for bikes to follow the traffic.

    WA is getting better and to note, it's not legal nor is it illegal to filter here. The police here have told me to use my common sense, don't act like a d******d and they won't have a reason to pull you over.

    I'm sorry that car drivers feel "envious" about this, especially in the summer months when the weather is beautiful and the motorcyclist is through traffic and at home, sitting back, downing a cold one whilst the driver is still stuck, somewhere, but you're right; in winter it's cold and wet for us riders. Thankfully there's public transportation.

      That's exactly right - although it helps ease congestion for motorcycles, it's primarily about getting you away from other cars and allowing you to quickly build up a buffer zone. If you're sitting in congested traffic you're a sitting duck for some idiot who doesn't notice you. Given that people don't seem to see something as wide as a car with two brake lights, the chances of said people seeing something barely wider than your shoulders with a single light are even worse.

        In addition to avoiding being rear-ended, filtering to the front also keeps you moving, which is good for air-cooled bikes on a very hot day, and it gets you away from the exhaust pipes of the vehicles in front of you. Being stuck in a traffic jam with an overheating bike, while breathing in the fumes of the banger in front is not pleasant.

      In NSW at least part of the motivation WAS to ease congestion:

      Has the potential to help ease traffic congestion, especially with the number of motorcyclists on our roads increasing every year.

    Do these laws include motorcycles riding down the bicycle lane? Is that the same thing?

      Illegal in ACT, pretty sure it's illegal in NSW also. Breakdown lane too.

      In NSW it is not actually specific about riding in or next to bicycle lanes.
      It is illegal for motorcyclists to lane filter:
      next to the kerb
      next to parked vehicles
      in school zones
      http://roadsafety.transport.nsw.gov.au/stayingsafe/motorcyclists/lanefiltering/

        Do these laws include motorcycles riding down the bicycle lane? Is that the same thing?
        In NSW the new RMS website makes it really difficult to find the information, but it is in fact ILLEGAL for a motorbike to ride in a bike lane unless it needs to turn. It's in there somewhere, and fines and demerits apply.

        Best I could find without trawling through actual legislation is here: http://www.rms.nsw.gov.au/roads/safety-rules/road-rules/lanes.html

          Great design of a website by the government when people visiting comment 'it's in there somewhere' "/sarc."

    actually in qld, it is legal to filter between cars moving in the same direction at less than 30kmhr regardless of the speed limit.
    The 90kmhr rule only applies to riding on the shoulder of the road.

    Has been legal in SA for as long as i know and have been doing it since I have been riding. Have to admit it is dangerous especially since we have the worst drivers in the world here in Adelaide.
    Ride safe guys and remember drop a gear and disappear!!!

      Can I get confirmation on this? I thought it was illegal in SA.
      Also, for states that it is legal in, does having L's or P's change if you're allowed to filter or not?

        I'd like confirmation too please. I did my R-Date 5 years ago and during the day was told that lane filtering and oddly enough the 'California Stop' are illegal.
        I've also filtered to the front once and of course it was an officer at the front of the cue (half my luck) who politely told me it was illegal in SA and to "stay safe".
        I'm assuming it's one of these laws that isn't policed very heavily as long as you're not a tool. I have never heard of someone being booked for filtering either.

        Did a quick little bit of research and it seems like there's no specific law against lane filtering. However depending on the circumstances a motorcyclist could be breaching a number of other rules.

        “Currently riders who do that (lane filter) breach any number of … road rules.”
        “(They include) things like no overtaking on the left, keeping a safe distance while overtaking, driving within a single marked lane of traffic, moving from one marked lane to another across a continuous line, giving enough indication about a change of lanes, getting to the front of a queue of traffic putting themselves over the stop lines, which they are not allowed to do."

    God forbid it did happen, if a driver did open the door and a motorbike rider collided with it who would be in the wrong in a legal sense?

      Good question - in NSW law and most likely the rest of Australia too, the person who opens the door is considered at fault.

      A person must not cause a hazard to any person or vehicle by opening a door of a vehicle, leaving a door of a vehicle open, or getting off, or out of, a vehicle.

        Cheers Hayley.

    I'm actually surprised by this article as I though it was legal in SA.... (PS: what happened to National Road Rules? Did we just align a few years back in order to mark a line in the sand before we diverged again?)

    PS: It doesn't really matter how legal it is if you get maimed/killed.
    Filtering doesn't include weaving in/out of lanes while traffic is stopped, especially when you weave into the Turn right lane with Green Arrow (as I've witnessed)!
    And you truly are a "Temporary Australian" if you filter between 2 trucks as/just after the lights change!

    I dont see why this should be legal? Generally this isnt how road lanes are designed to be used. I am all for it if the public is properly educated, and the road system adapted to it however.

      Ever been rear-ended in a car? It's quite painful and jarring. Try it on a motorcycle. You want to be in a position where a car can't hit you from behind - ie at the front of a line of traffic at the stop light.

      Concentration is heightened when on a motorcycle, yet even as a motorcyclist, I feel my concentration lower into a comfort zone when I'm in my car. The only way to be safe on a motorcycle in traffic is if cars are way behind you or way ahead of you.

    I wish this was plastered across billboards in NSW - since it makes very little difference if motorcyclists are the only people aware of the law. (And it certainly feels that way)

    While I only lane filter if I feel **absolutely** safe to do so (and that's not very often to be frank) - when I do so I expect not to feel guilty for it!

    I've (legally) lane filtered before and jumped back into traffic (in a gap in STOPPED traffic mind you) and had a car actually move forward and bump the rear of my motorcycle.

    Suddenly all the benefits of lane filtering feel compromised by the possibility I'll get "deliberately" rear-ended instead...

    Victoria was supposed to have rules formalised this month. I don't see it happening at this stage though. The Government; she moves quickly!

    I notice that motorists are becoming a lot more accommodating to motorcycles filtering these days though, moving aside when possible etc... Or perhaps it's that my exhaust is a lot louder on my new bike haha...

    I have no problems with people lane filtering on those rules. What bugs me is that in order to lane filter at no greater than 30km/h the cars your filtering through need to be doing less than 30km/h. People have been lane filtering at high speeds for as long as I can remember. I think that's the main reason why most car driver's don't like it. If an accident arises its usually blamed on the driver.

    Yeah completely fine with lane filtering, provided that the cars are stationary and the bike rider is travelling at a slow loping jogging speed - and no more. Retards that speed between the lanes - while they don't deserve to be doored etc., they are doing what it takes to bring it on; as well as alarming at times, many of the stationary car drivers.

    Only feel safe filtering when traffics at a complete stop & then I feel guilty for doing it....

    2 terms are mixed up.
    First you have lane SHARING, not lane filtering.
    Lane Sharing is when sharing a lane with moving traffic, and is considerably more dangerous than filtering.
    Filtering is a different term. Lane filtering does not exist.
    Filtering is going in between cars that are standing still, or are stopped, and should become legal everywhere in the world.
    It's legal in most countries, and in plenty it's not actually legal, but could not get you a ticket, if you don't go very fast.

    When filtering is done between 5-10MPH, the worst what could happen is if someone opens the door a few inches before you're about to pass them, and you hit it, and probably have some mild hardware damage. But in almost zero occasions, filtering ever leads to accidents.

    Lane sharing is considerably more dangerous, but still allowed in many countries and states.
    Lane sharing can only be done by a 2 (or 1) wheeled vehicle. A car is not allowed to lane share with a motorcycle; and a motorcycle needs to be cautious when lane sharing with a car.

    Cops that give tickets for lane sharing and especially filtering, are pretty ignorant.
    They are just adding to the traffic by slowing the traffic flow even more, or causing the biker to have to zigzag between cars, switching lanes, to get ahead, which is significantly more dangerous.
    In many places filtering or lane sharing is still illegal, but seen as jaywalking. If it's done unsafely, it could get you a ticket, but if the speed is limited, and the rider is obviously riding defensively, it is ignored.

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