Filtering. It’s one of the many benefits of riding a motorcycle. And whilst the act of overtaking traffic by riding between lanes is perfectly legal (for the most part), anyone that’s ever done any filtering will have almost certainly received some sort of abuse from upset (and frankly jealous) car drivers. And that’s not the only problem. Because whilst filtering is legal for the most part, there’s still a very good chance you’ll get nicked if you do it wrong.
There is more than one mention of filtering in the Highway Code, and nowhere does it say you must never do it. We can take from that, that filtering, in general, is allowed. Where it’s not allowed, is at the front of a queue of traffic waiting at a pedestrian crossing. That’s to say, you can pass everything in the queue, except the vehicle at the very front.
Other than that, you’re free to filter as much as you want, with one caveat; you’ve got to do it safely.
The problem there is, there’s no hard and fast rule to say what is and isn’t considered ‘safe’. It would be hard to argue that nipping through stationary traffic at 5mph is dangerous. At the same time, it’d be hard to argue that threading your way through that same stationary traffic jam at 70mph isn’t dangerous, even if you are still within the road’s speed limit.
There’s quite a large middle ground though. The line between what’s ‘safe and legal’, and ‘unsafe and illegal’, is somewhere in a massive grey area. And exactly where in that massive grey area, can often be dependent on the opinion of the police officer that’s stopped you.
And obviously there is massive potential for there to be a reasonable discrepancy between what you think is safe, and what a police officer thinks is safe. If you do get pulled for a dangerous driving offence, you could always dig your heals in and demand your day in court; but I don’t think I’d fancy it. I’d want a bloody good solicitor.
Should you find yourself in court after getting pulled, or worse, being in an accident whilst filtering, there’s plenty of caselaw that the prosecution can draw from to either convict you, or apportion a significant chunk of the blame to you.
Filtering is great but just because it’s legal, it doesn’t mean it’s always safe. It’s not uncommon for a car driver to make a sudden, last minute lane change with only a cursory glance in his or her wing mirror; and they probably won’t be looking for a bike, so there’s a good chance they won’t see you. And stationary traffic can be even worse, with pedestrians appearing out of nowhere and car doors suddenly blocking your path. Quite clearly, it pays to take extreme care when filtering.
Is it really worth it then? I’d say so, yes. It’ll save you time as well as fuel. And what most other road users don’t realise, when they’re getting all uppity at you for weaving through all the stationary traffic, is the fact that you’re saving them time too. Because if you was simply sat in the traffic, rather than slicing through it, you’d be adding to the traffic.
Think of it like this; according to James Toseland’s ex-wife there are nine million bicycles in Beijing. Now imagine if everyone of those cyclists bought themselves a car, and drove to work instead of cycling there. It’d be carnage, wouldn’t it? Utter gridlock.
And obviously on the other hand, if more car drivers rode bikes (bicycles or motorcycles), congestion would be reduced even more, still.
Yes, there are clear societal benefits to filtering, above and beyond you getting to work on time.
So let’s not be peer pressured into forgoing our god given right as motorcyclists to filter our way through traffic. But let’s make sure we do it safely, because we don’t want to get hurt. Or locked up.