Bicycle-specific laws

Bicycles must have a brake, warning device or bell and have lights for night riding. Helmets are compulsory. Scooter riders must wear helmets if travelling on the road. Cyclists must not ride more than two abreast on the road. Cyclists cannot lose demerit points for riding under the influence of alcohol. Riders may not cycle across pedestrian crossings. Adults may not ride on the footpath unless they are disabled or supervising a child rider.

Essential road rules

What is a roadworthy bicycle?

All bicycles must have at least one working brake and a “bell, horn, or similar warning device, in working order” (RR 258; maximum penalty: 5 pu).

If you ride a night or in bad weather, you must have attached to your bicycle:

1 a flashing or steady white light on the front of the bicycle (arguably then, the blue lights that are becoming more popular as front lights offend this rule) that is clearly visible from 200 metres in front of the bicycle; and

2 a flashing or steady red light on the back of the bicycle that is clearly visible from 200 metres behind the bicycle; and

3 a red reflector on the back of the bicycle that is clearly visible from 50 metres behind the bicycle (RR 259; maximum penalty: 5 pu).

Helmets

When you are riding a bicycle, you and any passenger (including children in attached seats) must wear a properly fitting and fastened helmet unless you are riding on private property (RR 256; maximum penalty: 5 pu). If you are riding a scooter on a road or road-related area, you must also wear an approved bicycle helmet (RR 244B(1)).

“Approved bicycle helmets” are those approved by VicRoads (under RR 407(f)) and published in the Government Gazette. Your helmet must meet Australian safety standard AS/NZS2063:2008.

In exceptional circumstances, VicRoads “may issue a certificate stating that it would be impractical, undesirable or inexpedient that the person named in the certificate wear a bicycle helmet while riding on, or being taken as a passenger on, a bicycle (RR 256(4)) or travelling on a scooter (RR 244B(2))”. An automatic exemption exists if:

the rider is a member of a religious group and is wearing a type of headdress customarily worn by members of that group; and

the wearing of the headdress makes it impractical to wear a bicycle helmet (RR 244B(3A), 256(6)).

A person who has been issued such a certificate must have it in their possession when riding and produce it when demanded by an authorised person (i.e. person with written authorisation from VicRoads or the Victorian Government Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources) or a police officer (RR 244B(3), 256(5)).

A paying passenger being carried on a three- or four-wheeled bicycle does not have to wear a helmet (RR 256(2)(a)).

How a bicycle should be ridden

When you are riding your bicycle, you must face forwards and have at least one hand on the handlebars (RR 245; maximum penalty: 3 pu).

Passengers

You must not carry more passengers than the bicycle is designed to carry. Accordingly, “dinking” is against the law (but a child in a child-seat is permitted). Passengers can only sit on your bicycle if they are in a seat designed for a passenger (RR 246; maximum penalty: 3 pu). You can tow a bicycle trailer with a passenger in or on it if:

you are at least 16 years old; and

the passenger is under 10 years old (or older if the person holds a valid, signed medical certificate) (RR 257).

Mobile phones

When riding a bicycle or a wheeled recreation device, you must not use a mobile phone (RR 300(1C); maximum penalty: 10 pu) unless the phone is secured in a mounting fixed to your bicycle, is “hands-free” and is only used for calls, listening to music or GPS navigation.

These rules also apply when you are “stationary but not parked” on your bicycle. This includes being stationary in a marked lane, bicycle lane, bicycle storage area or in a line of traffic on a road (e.g. pausing at traffic lights).

For your safety, it is better to not use your phone at all while riding, as even using a phone hands-free can divert your attention from dangers on the road.

Walking the dog while riding your bicycle

It is illegal to have your dog on a lead while you ride your bicycle (RR 301(3); maximum penalty: 3 pu).

Riding in traffic

Keeping left and safe distances

When riding on the road, you must ride as close as practicable to the left side of the road (RR 129; maximum penalty: 3 pu).

Keep a safe distance between you and any traffic in front of you and make sure you have enough space to stop safely. There must be at least two metres between your bicycle and the rear of the vehicle in front (RR 255; maximum penalty: 3 pu).

Turning and signalling

If you intend to change direction when riding, the safest option is to signal your intention to do so. How to signal 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.

When intending to turn right, cyclists should look back to check what is coming and, if the way is clear, signal, merge towards the centre of the road and turn when appropriate. Whenever you are moving over to the right (including when changing lanes or turning right), you must signal with your right hand (RR 48(1); maximum penalty: 3 pu).

Cyclists should turn left by moving towards the left kerb and then making the turn. If you are turning left, you do not have to signal, but it’s a good idea to do so (RR 46(5)).

Hook turns

A hook turn is a right-hand turn started from the far left of an intersection.

If there is a hook turn sign, cyclists must do a hook turn to turn right. At all other intersections, RR 35 allows cyclists to do a hook turn rather than cross lanes of traffic (unless a sign prohibits it: RR 36; maximum penalty: 3 pu).

If a cyclist does not carry out a hook turn in the way described in RR 35(3), they can be fined a maximum of 2 pu.

More information about hook turns is available at www.vicroads.vic.gov.au.

Bicycle zones at intersections

The curiously named “bicycle storage area” or “hook turn storage area” is a painted rectangle marked at an intersection with a bicycle symbol inside it.

These areas are safer places for cyclists to stop as cars are not allowed to enter them until the lights change. The intention of bicycle hook turn storage areas is to make hook turns safer to execute, as cyclists can gather in the rectangle and all take off at the same time when the traffic lights turn green.

If you are riding on the road and there is a bicycle storage area and you need to stop, you must stop inside it. If there is a bicycle lane leading into the bicycle storage area, you must use the bicycle lane to enter the area unless that is not a practical option (RR 247A; 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).

Cyclists who are in a bicycle storage area that goes across all traffic lanes 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 (RR 247B(2); maximum penalty: 3 pu).

Motor vehicles are prohibited from entering bicycle storage areas before the lights change. RR 60A(1) says that “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 that “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).

Riding in groups

You cannot have more than two cyclists next to each other, except when overtaking (RR 151; maximum penalty: 3 pu). When riding next to someone, you must not ride more than 1.5 metres apart from them (maximum penalty: 1 pu).

Overtaking

A cyclist is permitted to pass or overtake a motor vehicle on the left or right, except where the vehicle is turning left or right and has their indicator on (RR 141(2); maximum penalty: 3 pu). This means it is lawful for a cyclist to progress to an intersection by passing on the left side of a stationary line of cars. Cyclists must not overtake a vehicle on the right if it is doing a U-turn from the centre of the road and is indicating right.

When passing or overtaking, all drivers (including cyclists) must leave a “sufficient distance to avoid a collision or obstruct the path of the vehicle being passed” (RR 144).

A Metre Matters campaign

To counter the high number of cycling fatalities and injuries, the “A Metre Matters” campaign seeks to amend the laws so that “sufficient distance” means:

at least 1 metre distance when vehicles are overtaking bicycles on roads with maximum speed limits of 60 km per hour or less; and

at least 1.5 metres distance when vehicles are overtaking bicycles on roads with maximum speeds of over 60 km per hour.

The Greens MLC Samantha Dunn introduced the Road Safety Road Rules 2009 (Overtaking Bicycles) Bill 2015 (Vic) to implement the above passing requirements. In March 2017, the Victorian Government decided to not legislate passing distances. Instead, it ran a 12-month education campaign. This makes Victoria the only state or territory in Australia without the “one metre rule” laws permanently in place, being trialled or promised. At the time of writing (30 June 2018), the results of the education campaign were unclear; however, the Road Rules were remade in July 2017 without including the “one metre rule”.

Crossings

If you want to cross the road using a pedestrian or children’s crossing, you must get off your bicycle and walk it across the road, unless there are bicycle crossing lights (RR 248(2); maximum penalty: 3 pu; see also RR 260–262).

Causing a traffic hazard

Cyclists are not permitted to cause a traffic hazard by moving into the path of a driver or pedestrian (RR 253; maximum penalty: 1 pu). Cyclists must not be towed by another vehicle or hold onto a moving vehicle (RR 254; maximum penalty: 5 pu). Cyclists must not ride within two metres of the rear of a moving vehicle for more than 200 metres (RR 255; maximum penalty: 3 pu).

Riding on paths and bicycle lanes

Footpaths

The RR dictionary defines a “footpath” as “an area open to the public that is designated for, or has as one of its main uses, use by pedestrians”.

You can only ride on a footpath if you:

are under 12 (RR 250(1); maximum penalty: 3 pu);

are an adult (18 years or older) supervising a child under 12;

have a disability or medical condition that means it’s difficult for you to ride on the road (and you have a valid medical certificate);

are a postal worker doing your job (RR 250(1A)).

When riding on a footpath, you must keep to the left (provided it is practicable to do so), and you must give way to pedestrians (RR 250(2); maximum penalty: 3 pu).

Shared paths

A shared path is an area open to the public that is used by both cyclists and pedestrians. Typically, a shared path is a section of path that has signage showing both a pedestrian and a bicycle (RR 242).

When riding on a shared path, cyclists must keep to the left (unless it is impracticable to do so) and must give way to pedestrians (except when the pedestrian is travelling in an electric personal transporter (RR 250(2); maximum penalty: 3 pu)).

It is recommended that cyclists use their bells to signal their approach to pedestrians.

Separated footpaths

A separated footpath is a path divided in two: one side is reserved for cyclists, the other side is for pedestrians (RR 239(4)). Pedestrians and cyclists must keep to their designated lane (RR 239(1); maximum penalty: 2 pu). Exceptions for pedestrians are:

if a pedestrian is crossing a path, undue delay in crossing the path is not permitted (RR 239(1)); or

if a pedestrian is on rollerblades, rollerskates or a similar “wheeled recreation device” (e.g. a skateboard or scooter), or is in or pushing a wheelchair (RR 239(2)).

Bicycle lanes

Bicycle lanes are on-road lanes reserved for cyclists; these lanes are identified with a white bicycle symbol and the word “lane” marked on the road.

If there is a bicycle lane (see RR 153(4)), the cyclist must ride in that lane, unless it is blocked (RR 247; maximum penalty: 3 pu).

Motor vehicle drivers are not permitted to drive in the bicycle lane (RR 153(1); maximum penalty: 5 pu) except for up to 50 metres if they are:

about to stop or park (provided stopping or parking is not prohibited at that place) (RR 153(2));

driving a bus or taxi and setting down or picking up passengers (RR 153(3));

entering or leaving the road (RR 158(1)(a));

entering a part of the road of one kind from a part of the road of another kind (e.g. moving to or from a service road) (RR 158(1)(b));

overtaking a vehicle turning right or doing a U-turn (RR 158(1)(c));

entering a marked lane or a line of traffic from the side of the road (RR 158(1)(d)); or

stopping at a place in the lane (RR 158(3)).

It is also permitted for a motor vehicle driver to drive in a bicycle lane, for an unrestricted distance, to avoid an obstruction (RR 158(2)(a)).

Copenhagen-style bicycle lanes

In recent years, “Copenhagen-style” bicycle lanes have been added to some Melbourne streets. This type of bicycle lane is set between the kerb and the row of car parking spaces, and usually has a concrete barrier between the lane and the parking spaces. Copenhagen-style lanes are intended to make cycling safer, particularly by protecting cyclists from “dooring” (seeWhat is dooring?”).

Under the Road Rules, no specific extra rules apply to Copenhagen-style bicycle lanes.

Unfortunately, the design of these lanes creates additional hazards. One such hazard is where motor vehicles are turning left across a bicycle lane and their vision is impaired by cars parked between them and the bicycle lane.

Also, in some instances (e.g. on La Trobe Street, approaching Elizabeth Street, in Melbourne’s CBD), yellow speed humps have been installed in the bicycle lane along the approach to certain car park entrances. This suggests that cyclists are required to give way to cars turning into the car park, or to at least reduce their speed as they approach the car park entrance. However, from a legal perspective, liability in the event of a crash is unclear.

Bicycle paths

Bicycle paths are separate, usually off-road paths reserved for cyclists; they are marked by a “bicycle only” sign (RR 239(4)).

Cyclists using a bicycle path must keep to the left of any oncoming cyclists on the path (RR 251; maximum penalty: 3 pu). This also applies to cyclists using shared paths and separated footpaths.

Bicycle carriers

A bicycle carrier (also known as a bike rack) is a device “attached to the rear of a motor vehicle to enable one or more bicycles to be carried by the vehicle, but does not include a trailer” (RR 400(1)).

Until recently, it was unlawful to drive a motor vehicle with an empty bicycle carrier attached. However, the relevant rule (RR 400) was removed in the 2017 remake of the Road Rules.

All vehicles must display number plates (reg 50 Vehicles Regulations; maximum penalty: 2 pu). Number plates must be clearly visible up to 20 metres away (reg 48(1)(d)). If your number plate is obscured by a bicycle carrier, you can attach your number plate to the bicycle carrier (reg 48(3)) so that it is visible. Number plates for bicycle carriers are available from VicRoads (www.vicroads.vic.gov.au).

Serious traffic offences

The RS Act 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 RS Act; various penalties depending on whether anyone was killed or seriously injured; up to a maximum of five years imprisonment and 600 pu);

dangerous driving and riding: the RS Act (s 64(2A)) states that a person must not drive a vehicle, or ride a bicycle, at a speed or in a manner that is dangerous to the public, considering all the circumstances of the case (maximum penalty: 120 pu or 12 months imprisonment or both); examples of dangerous riding include riding too fast for the conditions and not looking out for pedestrians;

careless driving and riding: the RS Act (s 65(2)) states that a person must not drive a vehicle, or ride a bicycle, carelessly on a highway (maximum penalty: 6 pu (first offence) and 12 pu (subsequent offence)); examples of careless riding include riding too fast for the conditions, and not looking where you are going.

Drunk riding

The relevant provisions of the RS Act relating to drink-driving refer to motor vehicles and, accordingly, do not apply to cyclists – as such, cyclists cannot lose their driver’s licence or lose demerit points for riding while under the influence of alcohol.

However, there is an archaic offence in the Summary Offences Act 1966 (Vic) (s 16(b)) that imposes a maximum penalty of 10 pu or two months imprisonment if you are drunk in charge of a carriage (not including a motor vehicle) in a public place. “Carriage” is not defined but specifically excludes a motor vehicle and would likely include a bicycle.