Lane filtering is a big issue for many motorcyclists, and increasingly important when it comes to improving road safety and traffic congestion.
Advocates of legal lane filtering argue that it gives motorcyclists more control on the roads, and allows them to move through busy traffic and into safer positions.
Despite calls for a standardisation of lane filtering legislation, the laws remain inconsistent. If you're driving across state lines, this can result in frustration and confusion not just for you as a rider, but for other road users too.
At Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, we are strong advocates for a uniform national lane filtering standard. But while this is being developed, it's important the riders know what is legal, and what's not, right now. So what can you do, what can't you do, and where are the differences?
What is lane filtering?
Lane filtering occurs when a motorcyclist or motorised scooter rider travels through stagnant or slow-moving traffic. A rider is lane filtering when they travel between:
- two adjacent lines of traffic, with all vehicles travelling in the same direction as the motorcyclist,
- two vehicles, where each vehicle is travelling in the same direction as the motorcyclist in separate but adjacent marked lanes, and
- a vehicle travelling in the same direction as the motorcyclist and an adjacent parked vehicle or row of parked vehicles (with the exception of overtaking)
As with all road manoeuvres, lane filtering is only legal if it is safe to do so. If conditions aren't safe, don't risk it.
The WA and NT exception
As a starting point, it's important to note that lane filtering is illegal across the board in the Northern Territory.
In Western Australia, the situation is a little more complex. Put simply, WA legislation doesn't specifically address lane filtering, though WA considers it an unsafe practice.
What can you do?
Fortunately, there are some aspects of lane filtering legislation that are pretty consistent across Australia.
With the exception of the NT and WA, lane filtering is permitted across the rest of Australia, if safe to do so, in situations where a motorcycle is travelling between:
- lines of traffic travelling in the same direction as the motorcycle,
- vehicles travelling in the same direction in adjacent marked lanes, and
- a vehicle and another vehicle.
With the exception of the NT and WA, lane filtering is also permitted on all types of roads, on roads with two or more lanes travelling in the same direction, as well as through intersections.
What can't you do?
There are three situations where lane filtering is illegal Australia-wide. You aren't allowed to lane filter:
- in bicycle lanes
- between the kerb, and
- into oncoming traffic
Lane filtering in these circumstances not only puts you at risk, but can also cause injury to someone else. You can also face penalties if caught.
The fine print
In addition to the WA and NT exception, there are a number of other situations where lane filtering legislation differs between states.
Lane filtering between parked cars
In both Victoria and Queensland, lane filtering between parked cars and traffic is legal, if safe to do so.
In New South Wales, Tasmania, South Australia, and the Australian Capital Territory, lane filtering between parked cars and traffic is illegal.
In Queensland, it is legal to lane filter in any speed zone. In Victoria it's also legal to lane filter in any speed zone if safe to do so, but not if otherwise signed.
In NSW and Tasmania, lane filtering is legal in all speed zones provided the motorcyclist is going less than 30km/h.
In SA, lane filtering is legal only at speeds of less than 30km/h, while in the ACT, lane filtering is only legal in speed zones of less than 40km/h.
Lane filtering in a CBD
You can legally lane filter in all states except the NT, WA and the ACT.
Lane filtering in school zones, and adjacent to shopping strips
In Victoria, lane filtering in school zones or adjacent to shopping strips is legal if safe to do so.
In Queensland, you cannot lane filter in school zones during school zone hours.
In Tasmania and SA, lane filtering is not legal during school hours.
In NSW and the ACT, you cannot lane filter in school zones or adjacent to shopping strips at any time.
Interestingly, South Australian legislation specifies that lane filtering across pedestrian crossings is also illegal.
Where to next?
As it stands, the law surrounding lane filtering remains frustratingly unclear. The inconsistencies between states can cause headaches for riders and other road users alike.
We strongly recommend you use this guide to understand what is legal in your state so you can lane filter in your daily routine knowing you are safe to do so. You can also refer back to this blog at any time before you plan your next interstate road trip.
We firmly believe that a national standard of lane filtering legislation would ensure motorcyclists and road users enjoy the peace of mind that comes with clear law, and safer roads.
As the conversation around developing a national standard increases, we encourage you to make your voice heard. Hearing from riders first-hand around what works, and what doesn't, is important. This ensures that legislation developed actually covers the reality of riding - keeping lane filtering safer and easier for everyone.