General road laws

The general road laws apply to all vehicles, including bicycles.

Keeping left, safe distances and “dooring”

A rider must ride as close as practicable to the left side of the road (RR 129; maximum penalty: 3 pu).

As well as RR 255 (“riding too close to the rear of a moving vehicle”), RR 126 applies equally to riders and car drivers. It states that “a driver must drive a sufficient distance behind a vehicle travelling in front of the driver so the driver can, if necessary, stop safely to avoid a collision with the vehicle” (maximum penalty for a cyclist: 5 pu).

Many bike crashes (including one involving the author) occur when car occupants carelessly fail to check before opening their doors. In such cases, those occupants have breached RR 269(3) (maximum penalty: 10 pu), which states, “A person must not cause a hazard to any person or vehicle by opening a door of a vehicle, leaving a door of a vehicle open, or getting off, or out of, a vehicle.”

In 2015, as part of the “A Metre Matters” campaign, Greens MLC Samantha Dunn introduced a Private Member’s Bill into the Upper House (the Road Safety Road Rules 2009 (Overtaking Bicycles) Bill 2015) that sought to mandate minimum passing distances for motor vehicles passing cyclists. The Bill amends the Road Rules by defining a “sufficient distance” for the purposes of RR 144 (“Keeping a safe distance when overtaking”). The distance a driver of a motor vehicle would need to give when passing a bicycle is:

i a distance of not less than 1 metre from the bicycle if the speed-limit for the length of road where the driver is driving at the time of overtaking is not more than 60 kilometres per hour; or

ii a distance of not less than 1.5 metres from the bicycle if the speed-limit for the length of road where the driver is driving at the time of overtaking is more than 60 kilometres per hour.

Motorists will be allowed to cross double white lines in passing cyclists.

Similar legislation exists, in the form of a two-year trial that commenced in April 2014 in Queensland. Trials are proposed for the ACT and South Australia, with another Greens’ Bill introduced in WA. However, at the time of writing (June 2015), the Victorian Bill had not passed the parliament.

Stop signs, traffic signals, trams and storage boxes

Cyclists, like other road users, are obliged to stop:

where indicated to do so by any of the following: a red traffic light, a yellow and red traffic light, a red arrow (RR 56, 59; maximum penalty: 10 pu; RR 57; maximum penalty: 5 pu);

at a stop sign or other traffic control signal (RR 67; maximum penalty: 10 pu; RR 68; maximum penalty: 5 pu); or

where the lights are yellow, if it is possible to safely stop before reaching the lights or intersection (RR 57; maximum penalty: 5 pu; also see RR 261 below).

The above also applies to shared footpaths, separated footpaths and bicycle paths, and where there are bicycle crossing lights (RR 260; maximum penalty: 10 pu; RR 262; maximum penalty: 5 pu). A rider must stop before reaching a yellow light if it is possible to do so safely (RR 261; maximum penalty: 10 pu).

RR 163 (driving past the rear of a stopped tram at a tram stop) and RR 164 (stopping beside a stopped tram at a tram stop) make it clear it is permissible to proceed past a stopped tram, at no more than 10 km/h, once the doors are closed and there are no pedestrians crossing. Failing to comply with these rules carries a maximum penalty of 10 pu. Schedule 7 of the RS General Regulations imposes a 2.5 pu infringement penalty on these offences.

The Road Rules refer to the strangely named “bicycle storage areas” and “bicycle hook turn storage areas”. Both of these concepts are defined in the Road Rules dictionary. Basically, they are rectangular boxes painted on the road that, usually, open out from a bike lane just before an intersection with traffic lights, and can extend across several lanes. Many have been painted on roads in Melbourne’s CBD.

The intention of a bicycle hook turn storage area is to make hook turns safer to execute, as cyclists can gather in the box and all take off at the same time when the lights turn green. Several new offences have been created (or current offences amended) referring to these areas, such as prohibiting cars from entering the areas before the lights change, etc. (see RR 27(1A), 31(4A), 32(2A), 56(3), 57(4), 60A, 247A, 247B – some of which are discussed in detail below).

RR 60A(1) says “if there is a bicycle storage area before traffic lights that are showing a red traffic light, a driver of a motor vehicle must not allow any part of the vehicle to enter the bicycle storage area” (maximum penalty: 10 pu). Subrule (2) says “if there is a bicycle storage area before traffic arrows that are showing a red traffic arrow, and a driver of a motor vehicle is turning in the direction indicated by the arrow, the driver must not allow any part of the vehicle to enter the bicycle storage area” (maximum penalty: 10 pu).

RR 247A requires that cyclists approaching a bicycle storage area at an intersection with red traffic lights showing must not enter the bicycle storage area other than from a bicycle lane, unless the bicycle storage area cannot be entered from the bicycle lane (maximum penalty: 3 pu). RR 247B(1) requires cyclists, when entering a bicycle storage area, to give way to:

any vehicle that is in the area; and

if green or yellow traffic lights are showing, any motor vehicle that is entering or about to enter the area, unless the motor vehicle is turning in a direction that is subject to a red traffic arrow; and

if the area forms part of a lane to which traffic arrows apply – any motor vehicle that is entering or about to enter the area at a time when those arrows are green or yellow (maximum penalty: 3 pu).

RR 247B(2) requires cyclists who are in a bicycle storage area that extends across more than one lane of a multi-lane road must, if any green or yellow traffic lights are showing, give way to a motor vehicle that is in any lane other than the lane that the bicycle is directly in front of, unless the motor vehicle is turning in a direction that is subject to a red traffic arrow (maximum penalty: 3 pu).

At a give way sign, there is no legal obligation to stop fully. SeeGiving way” for more instances where riders are legally obliged to give way.

Signalling and turning

All vehicles should be turned in a predictable manner. Cyclists should turn left by moving over towards the left kerb, signalling, and then making the turn. When intending to turn right, they should look back to check what is coming and, if the way is clear, signal in the manner described below, merge towards the centre of the road and turn when appropriate.

RR 46(5) and RR 52 state that riders do not have to signal an intention to, respectively, turn left or stop/suddenly slow. However, for cyclists, as for all road users, the safest option is to always signal an intention to change direction.

When turning right (except when doing a hook turn; see RR 48(5)(b)) riders must signal their intention to other road users by giving a hand signal (RR 48(1); maximum penalty: 3 pu). How to do this is explained in RR 50: extend the right arm and hand horizontally and at right angles to the bicycle, with the hand open and palm facing forwards.

RR 31 sets out how a driver (or rider) is to approach a right turn from a road (penalty: 3 pu) and, as noted above (seeHow a bicycle should be ridden”), cyclists can choose to turn right at any intersection by doing a “hook turn” (RR 35), except where there is a sign that states “no hook turn by bicycles” (RR 36; maximum penalty: 3 pu). Alternatively, riders may feel safer getting off their bikes and walking across the intersection using a marked foot crossing.

Giving way

A rider must give way:

when changing lanes (RR 148; maximum penalty: 5 pu);

at intersections in accordance with RR 72, 73 (maximum penalty: 5 pu);

at give way signs or give way lines (RR 69–71; maximum penalty: 5 pu; although any other vehicle: maximum penalty: 10 pu);

to any vehicle leaving a roundabout, where the rider is in the far left marked lane of a roundabout with two or more lanes (RR 119; maximum penalty: 3 pu);

when making U-turns (RR 38; maximum penalty: 5 pu);

to buses merging into traffic after having recently stopped (RR 77; maximum penalty: 5 pu);

to trams (RR 76; maximum penalty: 3 pu);

to trams entering or approaching a roundabout (RR 114; maximum penalty: 5 pu);

to emergency vehicles with their flashing lights or sirens on (RR 78, 79; maximum penalty: 5 pu);

at marked foot crossings with flashing yellow traffic lights (RR 65(2); maximum penalty: 10 pu);

at any pedestrian crossing with a pedestrian on it (RR 81(2); maximum penalty: 5 pu). At “children’s crossings” (which are defined in RR 80(6) and always have “stop lines”, i.e. a continuous line marked on the road) with pedestrians on them) the driver or rider must come to a full stop and not proceed until the crossing is clear (RR 80; penalty: 10 pu);

to any pedestrian crossing the road to board, or alight from, a tram (RR 164(2); maximum penalty: 10 pu); and

to pedestrians on footpaths or shared paths (RR 250(2)(b); maximum penalty: 3 pu).

Road Safety Act offences

The RSA provides that cyclists can be charged with serious traffic offences similar to those that apply to drivers of motor vehicles. The offences apply to all drivers of non-motorised vehicles, not just cyclists, and the penalties for these offences are approximately half that of the penalties applying to corresponding offences for drivers of motor vehicles, reflecting the fact that cars tend to cause significantly more damage to people and property.

The serious traffic offences are:

failure to stop, render assistance, exchange details or report to police following an accident if a person is injured or property damaged (s 61A RSA; various penalties depending on whether anyone was killed or seriously injured; up to a maximum of five years imprisonment and 600 pu);

dangerous driving: the RSA (s 64(2A) states that a person must not drive a vehicle, other than a motor vehicle, at a speed or in a manner that is dangerous to the public, having regard to all the circumstances of the case (maximum penalty: 120 pu or 12 months imprisonment or both);

careless driving: the RSA (s 65(2) states that a person must not drive a vehicle, other than a motor vehicle, on a highway carelessly (maximum penalty: 6 pu (first offence) and 12 pu (subsequent offence)).

Reporting accidents

For the procedures required after any road accident that causes personal injury or property damage, seeWhat to do after an accident” in Motor vehicle accidents and insurance.

Note on penalties

Each of the penalties indicated in this section is the maximum prescribed by legislation for a first offence, should the matter proceed to court. Each offence applicable to riders, skaters or pedestrians can also be dealt with by traffic infringement notices (on-the-spot fines) as per part 9 of the RS General Regulations (see Driving offences, and Fines and infringements).

Schedule 7 of the RS General Regulations states that for many bicycle offences the fine is 1–2 pu; however, on-the-spot fines for failing to obey traffic lights or stop/give way signs are the same for cyclists as they are for motorists (that is, 2.5 pu for failing to obey traffic lights, and 2 pu for failing to obey stop or give way signs). Some argue this lacks fairness given the disproportionate killing potential of cars versus bikes, but it perhaps also reflects the life-threatening nature of those offences. On-the-spot fines for most pedestrian (and hence, skater) offences are 0.5 pu.

For more information on bikes and the law, visit Bicycle Network Victoria’s website at www.bicyclenetwork.com.au.