The Australian Road Rules dictionary defines wheeled vehicles, both powered and unpowered. People riding wheeled recreation vehicles (skateboards, roller skates, roller blades and scooters) are considered pedestrians. Cyclists are subject to the road rules and are liable to penalties for failure to obey traffic lights and stop and give way signs. Minimum equipment for bicycles are a brake, warning device or bell and 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. Scooter riders must wear helmets if travelling on the road. Skateboarding is forbidden in some areas of the City of Melbourne but encouraged in others. Car occupants commit an offence if they open a door and a cyclist rides into it, known as dooring. Bicycle storage boxes at intersections are explained, along with the new rules relating to them.

Contributors

Glenn Osboldstone

Principal Legislation Officer, Environment Protection Authority Victoria

Dru Marsh

Manager of Internal Review, Environment Protection Authority Victoria

Bicycle-specific laws

Last updated

1 July 2020

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 the Department of Transport (under RR 407(f)) and published in the Government Gazette. Your helmet must meet Australian safety standard AS/NZS2063:2008.

In exceptional circumstances, the Department of Transport ‘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. a person with written authorisation from the Department of Transport) or a police officer (RR 244B(3), 256(5)).

A paying passenger being carried on a three-wheeled 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 be astride the rider’s seat and be facing forwards, with 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 in use for calls, listening to music or GPS navigation.

Any other use of the phone – including holding the phone, entering something into the phone (e.g. typing), sending or looking at anything on the phone, or turning it off or on – is unlawful.

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). Unfortunately, ‘sufficient distance’ is not defined in the Road Rules.

A Metre Matters campaign

Transport Accident Commission (TAC) figures show that cyclists are 34 times more likely to be seriously injured than vehicle occupants and 4.5 times more likely to be killed in a crash. In Victoria, over one in 10 of all cyclist crashes involve a vehicle overtaking a cyclist. 

To counter the high number of cycling fatalities and injuries, the ‘A Metre Matters’ campaign has successfully secured amendments to the laws in almost all Australian states and territories to legislate minimum passing distances.

Minimum passing distance laws (MPDL) are:

  • at least 1 metre distance when vehicles are overtaking bicycles on roads with maximum speed limits of 60 kilometres per hour or less; and
  • at least 1.5 metres distance when vehicles are overtaking bicycles on roads with maximum speeds of over 60 kilometres per hour.

However, Victoria is the only Australian jurisdiction that has not adopted or trialled MPDL, despite the recommendations of a 2016 Victorian parliamentary inquiry. Instead, the Victorian Government has opted for an education campaign (see www.tac.vic.gov.au/road-safety/tac-campaigns/tac-latest-campaigns/give-the-space). This is despite the Amy Gillett Foundation reporting that, in all jurisdictions in which MPDL have been introduced, cyclists have noticed an increase in the space drivers provide when passing. Various organisations, including the RACV, support Victoria adopting MPDL.

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 in 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 are prohibited from riding on a footpath if you are 13 years of age or older (RR 250(1); maximum penalty: 3 pu), unless you:

  • are accompanying and supervising a child under 13 years old who is riding on the footpath; or
  • are carrying a child in a bicycle baby seat or on a single- or two-wheeled bicycle attachment with pedals that is attached to your bicycle; or
  • have a disability or medical condition that means it’s difficult for you to ride on the road (and you are carrying a valid medical certificate), or you are accompanying and supervising such a person; or
  • are a postal worker doing your job (RR 250(1A)).

When riding on a footpath, you must keep to the left (if 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)). Cyclists should  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 and 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)), a 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)).

Protected intersections

Victoria’s first ‘protected intersection’ is being constructed at the crossing of Albert and Lansdowne Streets in East Melbourne. The new intersection design is intended to better protect cyclists progressing through the intersection from vehicles that are turning left. The added protection comes in the form of ‘jelly bean’ shaped traffic islands that force the turning vehicles to progress further into the intersection before commencing the left-hand turn, ostensibly to limit the tendency of vehicles to ‘cut the corner’ in a way that places cyclists in the vehicles’ blind spot.

Cyclists turning right in this intersection will essentially complete a ‘hook turn’ by following the green-painted lanes that take them through the intersection. The physical changes to the intersection will be accompanied by an ‘early start’ in the traffic light signals that apply to cyclists to enable them to commence crossing the intersection ahead of the other vehicles.

It is not clear yet whether this new configuration will require any adjustments to the Road Rules. For example, will a cyclist using the new lane be able to turn left at any time with caution by treating the lane as a ‘slip lane’, or will they be required to wait until the traffic signal they are facing is green? 

Also, as noted above under RR 141(2), a cyclist is lawfully able to ‘overtake’ to the right of a left-hand turning vehicle when proceeding through an intersection. With the creation of the ‘jelly bean’ islands, the ability to complete such a manouver may be very limited, requiring the cyclist instead to fully stop and give way to the left-hand turning vehicle due to a lack of space to proceed under RR 142(2).

For more information about this new road set up, see www.vicroads.vic.gov.au/planning-and-projects/melbourne-road-projects/protected-intersection-at-albert-and-lansdowne-street.

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 

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 rear number plate to the bicycle carrier (reg 48(3)) so that it is visible. Alternatively, 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. 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 licence or earn 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 while in charge of a carriage) in a public place. ‘Carriage’ is not defined but specifically excludes a motor vehicle and would likely include a bicycle, as well as a ‘horse or cattle or a steam engine’.

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