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Why ‘lane-splitting’ on a motorcycle is just asking for trouble

Published August 28, 2012
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Eric Lai answers readers’ auto questions every week for Wheels.

Q: In the case of R. v. Bunda, a motorcyclist was convicted under S.172 HTA for filtering through traffic.

I’m not a legal expert but I believe there is much misinformation within the motorcycling community regarding the legality of filtering. Some swear it’s legal and have police officers tell them just to be careful, and others say you’ll get the back-hand of S.172 HTA (racing on highway) which is an arrestable offence.

Reading the HTA, I don’t see that it specifically allows or prohibits filtering, as the lines painted on the ground on public roads and highways in Ontario are essentially meaningless.

Can you clarify this issue?

A: Ontario Transportation Ministry spokesperson Bob Nichols replies:

Generally speaking, motor vehicles (including motorcycles) are not allowed to “filter through” traffic that is stopped and waiting at an intersection. Motor vehicles approaching an intersection must proceed towards and then through the intersection in sequence, not in a cluster or side-by-side.

Motor vehicles are also not allowed to “filter through” traffic while moving along the roadway. Some motorcycle and moped drivers try “lane splitting” by driving on the line between lanes of traffic. This is extremely dangerous and should not be done.

Depending on the design of the road, the momentary traffic conditions, and the driver’s actual conduct, there are any number of HTA sections that may or may not be applicable.

These are, including but not limited to:

Section 130 (careless driving);
Section 135 (yield to traffic from the right);
Section 136 (stop signs);
Section 138 (yield signs);
Section 140 (pedestrian crosswalks);
Section 141 (turns at intersections);
Section 142 (signalling turns);
Section 144 (traffic control signals);
Section 148 (overtaking and passing);
Section 150 (turning and passing on the right); and
Section 154 (marked lanes).

Eric Lai adds:

When motorists decide to engage in what can be described, at best, as “quasi-legal” driving actions, you basically assume all risks as you’ll be the first one police and insurers look to for blame if a collision occurs.

For example, if you’re “lane splitting” and get cut off resulting in a crash, you might think the other driver is fully to blame for making an unsafe lane change. However, police and insurers are likely to determine that you are wholly or partially to blame based on the reasoning that, if you’d been following the law, you wouldn’t have been where no one expects you to be – riding between occupied marked lanes – and were subsequently hit as a direct consequence of that unlawful action.

In other words, “make sure your own hands are clean, before pointing the finger of blame solely at someone else.”

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