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Common Tread

Arizona and Virginia consider lane-filtering laws

Jan 16, 2020

Bills allowing motorcycles to filter through stopped traffic have been introduced in Arizona and Virginia, as U.S. motorcyclists continue fitful, slow and mostly unsuccessful efforts to adopt the sort of traffic practices the rest of the world uses.

Aside from California, where lane splitting is allowed, little success has been achieved. Hawaii passed a law in 2018 allowing motorcycles to use the shoulder of the road when traffic is stopped. Last year, Utah passed a lane-filtering bill with guidelines that seem reasonable. Basically, you can filter when traffic is stopped, you're on a road with at least two lanes in the same direction and the speed limit is no higher than 45 mph, and you can't go faster than 15 mph.

A proposal has been introduced in Arizona that copies the Utah restrictions. It's not the first time a lane-filtering bill has been introduced in Arizona. Motorcyclists sitting in stopped traffic in Phoenix heat have obvious reasons to want to be able to filter to the front of the line at stop lights and keep moving. But past efforts had little institutional support in the government. Even the legislator who introduced the bill two years ago said he wasn't sure it was a good idea.

This year, HB2285 has been introduced by Representative Noel Campbell, a former Navy and U.S. Forest Service pilot who states on his biography page that he also leads motorcycle tours in Mexico and Central America. Campbell is also chairman of the Arizona House Transportation Committee, so his understanding of motorcycling and his position in the legislature make him more prepared to handle the issue.

Meanwhile, the proposed law in Virginia has slightly different terms. It would allow filtering on roads with more than one lane in the same direction and when traffic is moving not more than 10 mph. The motorcycle couldn't go more than 20 mph when overtaking the slow or stopped vehicles.

Speaking from my own personal experience of living for several years in a crowded urban area where lane splitting was allowed, I think filtering provides motorcyclists with most of the benefits and is an easier sell than legalizing lane splitting, which is scarier to other drivers and more likely to be abused by reckless riders. By being able to move to the front of the line of stopped cars at every stop light, I could cut the time needed for a cross-town trip in half even without ever splitting through moving traffic. Plus, passing stopped vehicles is not very dangerous. And car drivers who see lane filtering in action and have an open mind will come to realize that it does improve traffic flow.

But while I think trying to get lane filtering legalized is a better strategy than trying to adopt California-style lane splitting in one move, I'm still skeptical we'll see widespread success. The bottom line is we motorcyclists are just too small a minority without much, if any, clout.