Bournemouth & Wessex Advanced Motorcyclists

Filtering on Motorways: Legal or not here I come!

I found this very interesting, well-written (by Tony Carter) article in a magazine and thought it extremely useful and thought provoking. Worth carrying it with you when on motorways as a get you out of jail free card? I have reproduced it in full with the kind permission of Motorcycle Voyager Magazine. (New mag and I enjoyed it. Bit different to the norm but then some would say, so am I.) Enjoy it - JT.

Statistically, motorways are amongst the safest roads in the UK but learners are not allowed on them (unless they happen to be driving an HGV). So lack of education and knowledge, as well as higher speeds, are prime causes of motorway accidents.

The big advantage we have over car drivers on a motorway is that when the queues start to form we don't have to sit there getting sweaty and frustrated. We're skinnier (even with the largest panniers attached) so we can filter - either slip between vehicles or quickly switch to a different lane. But over the years this ability has led to many debates over what is and what isn't legal for bikes to do on a motorway.

Is it legal?

Filtering is simply another word for overtaking, but many riders are confused over just how legitimate it is. This may be because they, have been told by other people that it is illegal (it is certainly is in some countries and certain states in the USA), or perhaps because it entails carrying out a nearside overtake (passing on the left), a manoeuvre which many also consider to be verboten. There is nothing in law that prevents you from overtaking provided:

So filtering on motorways isn't illegal as such. In practice, the only real issue is how safely you do it. Certainly, the traffic police have no general problem with riders filtering. However, many only consider a maximum of 10-15 mph above the speed of the slowest moving vehicle as acceptable. Beyond this, they would think about reporting riders for driving without due care and attention.

In respect of filtering down the nearside, or undertaking, how many times have you been faced with stationary traffic in the middle and offside lanes, while the nearside lane (erroneously referred to by one and all as the 'slow lane') sits empty? Or been confronted by a car sitting in the middle lane doing 50 mph with no other traffic in the nearside lane, but the outside lane heaving. Isn't it natural to consider going past on the inside?

Although it goes against what is written in the Highway Code, it is not illegal in itself to undertake. Again, this is providing other road users are not endangered and drivers are not forced to alter course or speed as a result. However, although the absolute offence of nearside overtaking was removed from the statute books many years ago, the possibility of being reported for careless driving, or in the worst cases, dangerous driving, still applies.

If you filter or undertake it is for the police to prove that your standard of riding fell below what would be considered acceptable. Be aware that many police cars and bikes, some of them unmarked, carry video cameras. If you weave from lane to lane, suddenly cut across the front of vehicles, or ride too aggressively between them there is a fair chance that you will not only be starring in your own video nasty, but will also end up in court.

If, as a result of your undertaking or filtering, a collision occurs, the chances are you will be held liable. However, if you ride smoothly and safely, do not take risks, and do not compromise the safety of others then you shouldn't have a problem.

Before carrying out any manoeuvre always ask yourself whether it can be done safely without inconveniencing other traffic, and if your actions are really going to give you any benefit?

If the answer to either question is no, then hold back until such time as a safe opportunity presents itself, but always be aware of the possibility of other vehicles changing lanes suddenly without warning. You may not be the only one on the road who wants to 'make progress'.

Tony Carter is a highly experienced road safety expert who served for many years as a police patrol motorcyclist. He is senior motorcycle examiner for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents Advanced Drivers' Association and a specialist in motorcycle protective clothing and equipment. Tony works for solicitors Boyes Turner in its claims group, specialising in personal injury claims for motorcycle accidents.

These views are those of the writer and may not necessarily be those of BWAM or the IAM.

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