Filtering on your motorcycle - what's the law?

03 August 2021

Laura Hopkins, Legal Executive in our Personal Injury team, looks at the legalities of filtering on motorcycles.

Contrary to popular belief, it is legal for a motorcycle to filter through stationary or low moving traffic. Indeed, it’s one of the advantages of travelling by two wheels rather than four and can significantly reduce travel time.

Unfortunately, it’s also really quite dangerous. What’s more, if you do suffer an accident while filtering there are multiple considerations that come into play when deciding which party was at fault for the collision.

If you’re a motorcyclist, it’s important you understand both the risks and the possible legal ramifications.

There are a few cases involving motorcycles that have long been used by insurance companies to argue partial or complete fault on the part of the rider. Some are more than half a century old but remain good law.

They are:

Powell v Moody (1966)

In this case, which even pre-dates England’s World Cup win, the judge found the motorcyclist to be 80% to blame for the accident and the car driver 20% at fault. The motorbike was slowly overtaking a milk tanker which had stopped. The driver of the milk tanker waved a car to pull out in front of him from a junction onto the main road. As the car inched out in front of the milk tanker it collided with the motorcyclist. The judge in that case concluded that a motorbike rider must be incredibly careful when overtaking when he cannot see what is in front of him.

This case is rare as ordinarily anyone pulling out of a side street onto the main road would be held 100% at fault for the accident. It’s therefore often used by insurers acting for defendants.

Clarke v Winchurch (1969)

Here the motorcyclist was found to be entirely at fault. A car driver was pulling out across the front of a stationary bus in order to turn right down the road in the direction opposite to that in which the bus was facing. He collided with a moped which had overtaken the bus on its offside. The car was only about a yard beyond the offside of the bus at the moment of impact.

The judge ruled that the motorcyclist should’ve realised something was happening up ahead and that motorcyclists must drive in such a way that they can immediately deal with an emergency.

Leeson v Bevis Transport (1972)

The motorcyclist was found equally responsible for an accident where a van driver emerged from a side road. The court said that the motorcyclist did nothing wrong in overtaking the line of stationary vehicles, but needed to keep an effective lookout, whilst the van driver should have been aware of the possibility of vehicles overtaking in this way.

There have been more recent cases of significance, but these remain the foundations of many an out of court settlement. Partial fault or at least contributory negligence is routinely argued in a compensation case involving a motorcycle – but every case is unique and will need to be decided on its merit.

When filtering, The British Motorcyclist Federation advises not to take anything for granted, to watch ahead for gaps, to be aware of road markings and to never feel pressurised to filter. Expect to have to brake or swerve.

You should always travel at safe speed relative to the traffic around you. Filtering is usually concluded between 15mph and 20mph.

The Federation’s full tips can be read here

If you have been the victim of a motorcycle accident, it’s imperative you seek specialist advice. At Higgs & Sons we have extensive experience in motorcycle claims. We have a particular focus on not only securing the highest amount of compensation but also on helping rebuild lives through the provision of rehabilitation.

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