Taking advantage of motorcycles’ unique attributes enhances safety
Motorcycle Filtering – Preferred Framework for Victoria
The benefits, advantages, pros and cons of filtering have been discussed and examined and as a result, filtering became official Victorian Labor government policy. In March 2015, VicRoads commenced stakeholder input into the implementation of motorcycle traffic filtering, nominated for commencement in September 2015. Initial input was given verbally at a combined motorcycle stakeholder input meeting.
In the wake of that meeting, the Victorian Motorcycle Council (VMC) determined that a formal submission would be desirable to capture a broader range of stakeholder input from within the Victorian Motorcycle Council network and peers.
The VMC welcomes the opportunity to make this submission and to be involved in the ongoing implementation of motorcycle filtering in Victoria.
Motorcycles are a unique road modality, being a powered single track vehicle that is as often used for its enjoyment value as it is for its utility value . A rider experiences an immediacy to the road and road conditions that is both the key to their safety advantages (better vision, greater awareness, greater hazard perception) and safety disadvantages (higher injury likelihood from a small collision, higher risk from other road users). These factors are rarely appreciated by non-riders. There is a propensity to focus only on the negatives often fuelled by the anti-motorcycling rhetoric displayed in Australian media.
Further, it is noted that policy and road law generally fail to take advantage of the unique dynamics, size and mobility characteristics of motorcycles. This often forces motorcycles to behave in ways which can increase their exposed risk. This is particularly true of filtering* where a motorcyclist is forced by law to be part of the column of heavy traffic flow. This leaves the motorcyclist vulnerable to the risk of rear end collision† or being merged onto by a driver who perceives a gap in a column of traffic where in fact a motorcycle is travelling. For example, rear end collisions represented 23% of all Queensland crashes in 2002, according to the „Queensland Transport Annual Road Traffic Crash Report: 2002‟.
The anti-filtering position of road authorities and law makers results in the road system failing to capitalise on an effective way to both improve congestion and reduce the environmental impact of traffic on our busy roads and freeways .
There is substantial literature available to support the safety benefits of the practice of filtering. While a comprehensive literature review on the topic is beyond the scope of this submission, for further information please refer to Lane sharing – A global solution for motorcycling safety  for further information on the safety benefits of filtering. Also refer to Appendix A for more discussion on filtering.
Filtering is a safety behaviour undertaken by motorcyclists.
*„Filtering‟ is not explicitly defined in Australian law, but it is legal in 25 countries and is expressly taught in UK motorcycle licensing. It refers to safely navigating between lanes of stopped or slow moving dense traffic. Filtering guidelines advocate limiting the differential speed to approximately 30km/h.
† The Hurt Report  found that there was an improved margin of safety for motorcycles when filtering. The ability to filter between lines of traffic effectively prevents motorcyclists being „rear ended‟ - a major cause of accidents in traffic.
Melbourne‟s Eastern Freeway showing the substantial space available for motorcycles to make safe progress. Note the bumper to bumper proximity of most cars – not a safe location for a motorcyclist (photo: The Age).Calls for motorbike laws to ease congestion and save lives - Media Release
From the 2012 Parliamentary Road Safety Committee Inquiry into Motorcycle Safety:
Mr Rob Smith (MA Australia) framed the benefits of filtering as follows:
Filtering is really very important. Not only does it alleviate congestion, but it also has a lot of side effects, one of which is that if you allow riders to filter on a hot day you are more likely to get them to wear protective clothing because they can keep moving and there will be a through-flow of air, whereas if you make them sit in traffic on a 40 degree day between a whole load of cars that are pumping out a lot of emissions, choking up people and giving people all kinds of horrible diseases, you are going to get overheated riders.
The VicRoads submission also cited the Hurt and MAIDS report findings that filtering had only been found to be a factor in between 0.45% and 5% of motorcycle crashes. According to a VicRoads investigation of the role of lane splitting or filtering involvement in crashes, which it cautioned should be treated as indicative only, ‘about 7.9% of Melbourne metropolitan motorcycle crashes involving two vehicles may have been associated with lane filtering or splitting’. The Committee was unable to locate definitive research on the incidence of filtering as a crash cause in Victoria, a situation also cited by Motorcycling Australia.61 Due to the absence of research, the Committee expanded its investigations and assessed whether filtering was a factor or cause in fatal motorcycle crashes in Victoria from 1 January 2000 to February 2011. On the basis of its analysis of the Victorian Coroners Court case files and police crash reports, the Committee was able to definitively locate three fatalities from more than 500 cases during that period that explicitly involved a rider filtering or lane splitting. Although it is possible filtering was a factor in more crashes, on the basis of information made available in the Coronial reports, the incidence of filtering in terms of Victorian fatalities is extremely low.
The Committee received a substantial number of submissions calling for the legalisation of filtering. The question of whether filtering is unlawful, and therefore needs to be legalised, is an issue the Committee first needed to address. Although there is no explicit offence of filtering, there is a wide range of views on the lawfulness or otherwise of the practice, with motorcycle advocacy groups such as Motorcycling Australia suggesting the rules dealing with the practice are ambiguous, whilst Victoria Police states it is clearly an offence. In the Committee’s view, while the construction of the road rules has the effect of making filtering unlawful, the level of interest in its legalisation and its potential safety benefits necessitate further analysis.
Another consideration is that considerable emphasis needs to be placed on drivers. Filtering is clearly an activity that requires both motorcyclists and drivers to interact in a way that minimises risk. Therefore drivers are an integral component of filtering and doing so safely, as Mr Rob Smith highlighted:
The real issue with filtering is that if we legitimise filtering, then there is a requirement for drivers to be part of that interaction and to look for riders. One of the key things that riders want is for drivers to look for them. If we legitimise filtering, then we can incorporate that regulation into driver training. It would be ‘When you are in traffic, look for riders because they will be filtering. They are allowed to.
At present, filtering is unlawful in Victoria. There are various definitions used for filtering and different approaches by road safety agencies. On the basis of the available evidence, the Committee believes filtering, as distinct from lane splitting, may have potential safety benefits. However, the extent to which these benefits reduce trauma is difficult to ascertain. Conversely, there are risks associated with filtering, and the Committee considers that although these remain difficult to quantify they need to be evaluated by reference to Victorian crash data to properly assess crash risks.
The lack of a commonly applied Victorian definition of filtering needs to be addressed. In the Committee’s view, many of the elements for a definition of filtering exist in published literature and evidence collected during the Inquiry. An appropriate definition would consist of a reference to the lane position of a filtering motorcyclist, a maximum speed for filtering above which it would be considered lane splitting, and a reference to executing the manoeuvre in a safe way.
Framing filtering as a road safety measure for motorcyclists is a move away from the current regulatory approach which views the practice as being illegal and risky. The fact that overseas jurisdictions have legalised filtering, coupled with the acceptance by VicRoads of the potential benefits it poses, makes its investigation by road safety agencies a priority.
In the Committee’s view, legalising filtering requires a number of stages to be fulfilled. Firstly, there needs to be a commonly applied definition of filtering. Secondly, it is necessary to undertake further research on the crash risks and benefits of filtering. Thirdly, it is crucial to address the safety risks posed by other road users and find ways to train or educate riders on the safest way to filter. Lastly, it is imperative that lane splitting remain a prohibited practice and one that can be more easily enforced and distinguished from filtering. As part of this work, the Committee believes that a trial of filtering on a designated road or area followed by evaluation would greatly assist any assessment of filtering. These stages need to be completed before filtering as a lawful practice on Victoria roads is introduced. In the Committee’s estimation, legalising filtering should only occur if the practice has been shown to improve safety, can be done safely and can be regulated.