Can Lane Filtering Cut Down on Rear-Enders?

APR 24, 2018

Can Lane Filtering Cut Down on Rear-Enders? -
It seems that the legalization of lane filtering, also known as lane splitting, is one of the most cherished dreams of motorcycle operators in the United States. While California remains the only state where filtering is officially allowed since 2016, in some other states legalizing bills are already filed and many riders do believe that things are about to change.

Actually, lane filtering is a common practice in many Asian countries, where motorcycles are numerous and make up a significant part of the traffic. Large urban areas in India, Indonesia or Thailand are famous for their dense traffic, stuffed with all kinds of vehicles from bicycles and horse-drawn vehicles to trucks and buses. However, little attention is paid to the safety of lane filtering in those developing countries, and the practice is allowed for convenience rather than for safety reasons.

By contrast, in the developed countries lane splitting is often considered as an effective way to reduce various types of road accidents involving motorcyclists. Supporters of the practice claim that by removing riders from heavy traffic flow it is possible not only to relieve the congestion but also to prevent many bikers from getting hurt. Is there any evidence proving this viewpoint? Let’s see what research shows.

Lane Filtering Pros Proven

In 2015, the University of California Berkeley published a report, analyzing safety issues associated with lane splitting in California. Their findings argue in favor of this practice rather convincingly:

  • Lane-filtering riders tend to use better helmets than those who don’t lane split.
  • They ride at a lower speed.
  • Alcohol-impaired driving is less common among them.
  • They carry passengers less often.
  • When they collide with other vehicles, they are less likely to be injured.
  • There are fewer fatal injuries sustained by lane-filtering bikers.

Besides, only 17% of bikers involved in road accidents studied were lane splitting at the time of their collision.

Also, with reference to another study, NHTSA confirms that there are reasons to believe that filtering can reduce the risk of crashes with riders involved, though urging to conduct further research on the issue.

Lane Filtering Pros Debated  

But what about rear-enders? Does filtering really reduce the number? Unfortunately, there is no valid answer to this question.

On the one hand, Berkeley’s study shows that those riders who don’t lane filter are almost twice as frequently rear-ended as lane-splitting bikers. But the problem is that lane-splitting motorcyclists tend to rear-end twice as often as other bikers. As a result, there is no reason to believe that filtering reduces rear-enders. Besides, based on the report rear-enders makeup only 4.3% of all the crashes studied.

Also, a large-scale Motorcycle Accidents in-depth study conducted in Europe didn’t reveal any difference in the number of rear-enders in those countries, where lane filtering is allowed, compared to those where it is illegal. Maybe, this is because the study was too large-scale to focus on this particular issue. 

However, Steve M. Guderian, a motorcycle safety consultant and a proponent of lane filtering, conducted his own study by comparing crash data from California, Arizona, Florida, and Texas. The last three states, which don’t allow filtering, were chosen because they have traffic situations similar to those in California regarding bike popularity and traffic density, among other factors. The researcher claims that motorcyclists’ fatality rates in rear-end crashes are significantly lower in California when compared with both three states and national rate. But he also recognizes the need for further research, although he supports legalizing lane filtering beyond California.   

Bottom Line

In fairness, the contradictory situation regarding lane splitting safety and advantages for bikers is observed in many countries, and many authorities are currently trying to clarify it. For example, in 2016, the French government launched lane filtering testing in several departments of the country by allowing the practice until 2020. In some Australian provinces, lane splitting is legal, while in others it is not. But most experts share one view that if legalized, lane filtering has to be strictly regulated so that the practice can yield positive results in reducing rear-enders and other risks. First of all, this refers to the restriction of traffic speed at which lane filtering is allowed, as well as to how much faster than the surrounding traffic a rider can travel.

Well, while experts are addressing the global concerns with lane filtering, you have some extra time to improve your knowledge of safe driving practices that can save you from rear-enders or at least reduce the risk of accidents.