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Rule of the road

20 November, 2013

It’s almost summer, and with the warmer weather bringing more riders onto Australia’s roads and paths,  Margot McGovern has a has a timely refresher on the road rules all cyclists—from roadies to commuters—should know.


By law, bike riders are legitimate road users and, as such, have the same rights and responsibilities as all other road users. However, there are some rules that apply specifically to bike riders. Below are the key laws in effect nation-wide. There are also specific rules that apply in each state. For example, in most states it is only legal for riders under 12 and those accompanying them to ride on the footpath; however, in the ACT, Queensland and the Northern Territory it’s legal for all riders, provided they give way to pedestrians. Therefore, it’s advisable to read up on the rules that apply in your state.

Before you get rolling

When riding a bike in Australia you must wear a helmet approved by Australian Standards that is securely fitted and fastened on your head (unless you have been granted an exception for medical or religious reasons). Your bike must also be fitted with a few standard safety features: at least one working brake and a bell or
similar warning device.

When riding in low-light conditions or at night, your bike must have a rear reflector visible from at least 50 metres when lit by car headlights, a white front light and a red rear light. Lights can be either steady or flashing, but must be visible from at least 200 metres. You’re also required to be seated astride the saddle and facing forwards and must keep at least one hand on the handlebars at all times. You may only carry as many passengers as the bike is designed for, and if you are towing a passenger in a trailer, you must be 16 or older and the passenger must be under 10 and wear a helmet.

The dos

There are a few special exemptions that apply just to bike riders that many road users may not be aware of. For example, it is legal for riders to ride two abreast, provided they are no more than 1.5 metres apart. In addition to riding in designated traffic lanes, riders may also ride on the shoulder of the road, provided they signal and give way when crossing back over the white line into traffic.

Riders may also overtake on the left, providing the vehicle they are overtaking is not signalling left, in which case the rider needs to give way. You must ride within the bike lane when there is one provided, unless it is impractical to do so, such as if the lane is obstructed by debris or parked cars. If the bike lane is only wide enough to accommodate one rider, you must ride single file.

As a bike rider, you are permitted to perform hook turns. You can also turn right from the left lane of a multi-lane roundabout, provided you signal and give way to vehicles exiting the roundabout ahead of you.

The don’ts

The most important thing not to do on your bike is cause a hazard by riding into the path of another vehicle or pedestrian. There are also fairly strict rules about how you interact with other vehicles. For example, you must not follow within two metres of a motor vehicle for more than 200 metres, nor can you hang on to another moving vehicle while on your bike or have your bike towed by another vehicle while you’re riding it. When riding, you also need to steer clear of freeways, bus-only lanes and any other areas signed as bicycles prohibited. It is also illegal in all states except Queensland for bike riders to use pedestrian crossings, unless the crossing is equipped with bike signals.

It goes without saying that you must also obey wider traffic laws, such as obeying signals and signs, keeping left and riding in the general direction of the traffic. For more specific rules that apply to your state, visit the websites below.

More info

Australia wide









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16 Comments leave one →
  1. Justin permalink
    20 November, 2013 8:32 pm

    In your December-January 2010/11 issue it was suggested that it is OK to overtake on left subject to a couple of conditions…reference posted below;

  2. 20 November, 2013 9:48 pm

    Reblogged this on BikeNCA.

  3. Chris Little permalink
    20 November, 2013 10:44 pm

    NSW rules suggest bikes can ride in bus lanes.

    • Zoe L. permalink
      5 August, 2014 3:58 pm

      Following that link, the rules state “bicycle riders cannot” … “travel in Bus Only Lanes.”

  4. 11 December, 2013 4:51 pm

    Hmm – I use pedestrian crossings all the time – didn’t know it was illegal. It’s often the safest way to cross a junction or turn right. I am careful not to get in the way of pedestrians; in fact often thre are no pedestrians crossing at the same time as me.

    • Tim Davison permalink
      5 August, 2014 3:44 pm

      This may be classed as a hook-turn, if you never enter the actual crossing, and are going to turn right.

  5. Sandra permalink
    11 December, 2013 7:00 pm

    Does anybody know whether it’s legal (in Victoria) to cross at a pedestrian crossing if you get off the bike? Thanks

    • 13 December, 2013 11:01 am

      If you get off the bike it’s legal. This is the recommended practice.

  6. 11 December, 2013 9:22 pm

    Ditto; as long as bike riders consider pedestrians welfare in the same manner as with shared bike paths, using pedestrian crossings seems perfectly reasonable.

  7. 12 December, 2013 10:32 am

    In the print article (Oct-Nov) it says riding on the footpath is illegal in most states but then says “…ACT, Queensland and the Northern Territory it’s legal for for all riders, provided they give way to pedestrians.”

    This is also the case in Tasmania, per the links given:

    “ROAD RULES 2009 – REG 250

    250. Riding on a footpath or shared path
    (1) The rider of a bicycle who is 12 years old or older must not ride on a footpath if another law of this jurisdiction prohibits the rider from riding on the footpath.”

    This is usually wherever signs are posted banning wheeled recreational vehicles, generally malls and other high-traffic areas where accidents would be likely.

  8. Keiran Ryan permalink
    9 April, 2014 3:56 pm

    I am surprised that this article once again has a serious omission. It is legal for cyclists to ride two a breast but “not where there are double lines”
    It seems that most people I ride with, even highly experienced either ignore this or are unaware of it. This dangerous practice is encouraged by many photos in magazines and online which show riders two abreast beside double lines.

    • 5 August, 2014 6:19 pm

      Kieran, I’ve no idea what state you’re in but the two abreast “not where there are double lines” is not a law in Victoria, I’ve no idea whether it is in each of the other states and territories. Australia has eight sets of road laws, they’re not always the same.

  9. Emma permalink
    5 August, 2014 3:20 pm

    I thought it was not recommended to ride in a bike lane if you are then within 1.5 metres of a parked car. So I wouldn’t 100% agree with “You must ride within the bike lane when there is one provided, unless it is impractical to do so, such as if the lane is obstructed by debris or parked cars.”

    • MoreBikesPlease permalink
      5 August, 2014 8:06 pm

      It comes down to the definition of “impractical”. I reckon unsafe = impractical.

      Eg a bike lane in a parked car door zone is impractical unless I’m crawling up a hill at 10 kph.

      Poor lines of sight can make a bike lane unsafe. Eg if a road ahead is merging from the left at a shallow angle, I often plan ahead and move into the main traffic lane (with proper merging techniques).

      Also this rule only applies to official bike lanes. That means bike lane signs on poles at the start and end. A lot of bike markings on the road are not official bike lanes, so there’s no requirement to stay in them.

      • Tim Davison permalink
        5 August, 2014 10:39 pm

        Hey, that’s a good point about the official bike lanes. And what happens if you enter a bike lane in the middle, how would you know whether there was a sign at the start?

  10. Zoe L. permalink
    5 August, 2014 4:01 pm

    In Adelaide city some of the streets have two lanes: the left most one is a bus lane and then the inner lane is for cars. There isn’t a bike lane. As a cyclist would you ride in the bus lane or the car lane? I always felt the bus laner was safer/quieter/holds up less traffic, but maybe this is illegal?

    • Ian H permalink
      5 August, 2014 11:25 pm

      Sometimes you just apply common sense. Use the Bus lanes provided you do not hold up the buses. It is impossible to write rules for every circumstance but hopefully the authorities will be happy provided the intent of the rule is met.

  11. Bruce Gill permalink
    5 August, 2014 5:58 pm

    Interested to hear what others think: I am in country Vic and ride 6km to work on country roads. The last 2km is a relatively busy secondary road that has sealed verges and bike lines marked on the outside of the road edge white line. Riding over the years, I have had enough near misses from cars and trucks that stray close to or over the white line and scare the begeesus out of me because you can’t see whats coming from behind. In autumn and spring also, the sun shines along the east-west road and I am riding into it, so drivers also have substantial glare to contendd with.
    Anyway, I’ve started riding in the right hand bike lane as a self protection measure, so I can see if the oncoming car is paying attention, or if they look like they are straying into the bike lane. I’ve then got a chance of seeing the approaching danger and protecting myself by getting off the road! (note – I’ve not yet had another bike or pedestrian coming the other way).

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