The general road laws apply to all vehicles and hence also to bicycles. But the unspoken rules of cooperation, respect and a positive attitude between cyclists and drivers are important to safety on the roads for everyone, as well.
Cyclists are far more vulnerable to accidents than people in cars, as they are only protected by a helmet and their clothing. It is important that drivers are willing to recognise that cyclists have the right to be on the road as much as drivers. Cyclists need to be aware that sometimes it is safer to give way to drivers by pulling to the side of the road if they are on narrow and winding roads rather than persist in cycling when cars behind them cannot overtake.
Keeping left and safe distances
A rider must ride as close as practicable to the left side of the road (rule 129; maximum 5 penalty units). This does not mean that a rider has to ride in the ‘door zone’ of parked cars, or allow for cars to overtake them. Safety is always the most important consideration with road rules.
‘Practicable’ allows what is reasonable in order to maintain safe progress along the road. Practicable does not mean ‘stay out of the way, cyclist, there’s a car coming through’. Roads are for shared use, and ‘practicable’ carries an important element of safety in it.
‘Close’ may be interpreted as about 1m from the curb if there are no parked cars and the lane is wide enough to still allow vehicles to safely pass you. In the common situation where there is insufficient width for vehicles to safely pass when you are riding a safe distance (1 to 1.5m) from parked cars, then the practical position is just far enough right so that drivers will have to acknowledge that you are occupying the lane, and overtaking will only be possible by changing lanes.
It is not practical to weave in and out of parked cars because you become unsighted and often cannot safely re-merge with traffic, Maintaining a consistent position on the road is safest.This rule also applies to drivers. This is worth noting as drivers are often not aware that this rule applies to all road users except motorbikes.
As well as Road Rule 255 (‘riding too close to the rear of a moving motor vehicle’), Road Rule 126 would seem to apply equally to riders and 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 10 penalty units).
Overtaking to the left
A bicycle MAY overtake a vehicle to the left of the vehicle. The rider of a bicycle must not ride past, or overtake, to the left of a vehicle that is turning left and is giving a left change of direction signal (Rule 141).
Stop signs and traffic signals
Failure to observe the rules concerning stopping and turning is the source of many of those bicycle accidents where the rider is at fault. Cyclists, like other road users, are obliged to stop:
- where indicated to do so by any of the following: a red traffic light, twin red lights, a red arrow, a stop sign or other traffic control signal; or
- when instructed to do so by a police officer or an authorised employee (rule 304; maximum 15 penalty units); or
- where the lights are yellow, if it is possible to safely stop before reaching the lights or intersection (rule 57; maximum 5 penalty units).
The above also applies to shared footpaths, separated footpaths and bicycle paths and where there are bicycle crossing lights (rule 260; penalty: $100+). A rider must stop before reaching a yellow light if it is possible to do so safely (rule 261; penalty: $100+).
At a give way sign, there is no legal obligation to stop fully. Since riders often have better visibility than drivers it can be easier to keep feet on the pedals and proceed if the road is clear, rather than coming to a complete stop, although this is recommended as a safe practice for riders. See below 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. It is not a legal requirement to signal a left hand turn and in some instances it is safer to keep both hands on the handlebars. 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.
Road Rules 46(5) and 52 remove the obligation on riders to signal an intention to, respectively, turn left and stop or suddenly slow. Nevertheless, for the sake of safety it is recommended that riders still use hand signals to alert drivers to their intentions. The Rules also state there is no need to use indicators when entering or leaving a roundabout (rule 44). Again, for cyclists the safest option is to always signal an intention to change direction.
When turning right, riders must signal their intention to other road users by giving a hand signal. How to do this is explained in Road Rule 50: extend the right arm and hand horizontally and at right angles to the bicycle, with the hand open and palm facing forwards.
A similar approach is used with the left arm for signalling to turn left.
To signal an intention to stop or rapidly decrease speed, it is possible to use either arm. The arm is outstretched with the upper arm horizontal and the forearm and hand pointing upwards and with the hand open and palm facing forwards (rule 55).
Road Rule 31 sets out the three means by which a driver (or rider) is to approach a right turn from a road:
- if the road has a dividing line or median strip, the driver must approach and enter the intersection from the left of, parallel to, and as near as practicable to, the dividing line or median strip; or the median can provide ‘refuge’ for a cyclist waiting to turn. So does a designated ‘turn right’ lane.
- where there is no dividing line or median strip, the driver must approach and enter the intersection from the left of, parallel to, and as near as practicable to, the centre of the road. This can be a vulnerable position for cyclists, particularly on busy roads as there is a risk of being struck from behind. On quiet local roads it is an easy manoeuvre for bike riders.
The third option under Road Rule 31 is:
- where the road is a one-way road, the driver must approach and enter the intersection from as near as practicable to the far right side of the road.
Alternatively, riders may feel safer to get off their bikes and walk across the intersection using a marked foot crossing. There is also Road Rule 35 which permits a hook turn where it is more practical for bike riders. This allows a broader turn for cyclists so that there is less chance of skidding. A hook turn is a broad approach from the left, in a full arc to the right.
A rider must give way:
- when changing lanes (rule 148; maximum 10 penalty units);
- at uncontrolled intersections (rule 72 and 73; maximum 10 penalty units);
- at give way signs or give way lines (rule 69–71; maximum 10 penalty units);
- to any vehicle leaving a roundabout, where the rider is in the far left marked lane of a roundabout with two or more lanes (rule 119; maximum 5 penalty units);
- when making U-turns (rule 38; maximum 10 penalty units);
- when in the left lane of traffic, to buses displaying a ‘give way to buses’ sign where they are merging into traffic after having recently stopped (rule 77; maximum 5 penalty units);
- at any pedestrian crossing with a pedestrian on it (rule 81; maximum 15 penalty units).At ‘children's crossings’ (which 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 (rule 80; maximum 15 penalty units);
- to pedestrians on footpaths or shared footpaths (rule 250(3); penalty 2 penalty units).