The issue of what cyclists can and can’t do on the road and/or shared paths comes up frequently in online forums such as Australian Cycling Forums and often with misunderstandings of the law shown. The purpose therefore of this post is to summarise the application of the law to cyclists and cycling in a easy to follow manner. It should not be taken as legal advice.
Road Traffic Code 2000 (and Road Traffic Act 1974)
The majority of the road rules applicable to cyclists are embody in the Road Traffic Code 2000, however the Code should also be read in-conjunction with the Road Traffic Act 1974 and the Road Traffic (Bicycles) Regulations 2002.*
The scope of the Road Traffic Code 2000, our main focus, is defined in regulation 4 of the Code:
(1) Unless the context requires otherwise, these regulations apply to persons, vehicles and things on roads only, and where a provision of these regulations requires, or prohibits, the doing of any act or thing, that requirement or prohibition relates to the doing of that act or thing, on a road.
(2) Where a provision of these regulations requires, or prohibits, the doing of any act or thing on a path, that requirement or prohibition only relates to the doing of that act or thing, on the path if the path forms a part of a road.
Application of the Road Traffic Code 2000 to Cyclists
In this section, I take you through the Road Traffic Code 2000 highlighting the various aspects of the Code that are of particular relevant to cyclists. Of course the other rules of the road that apply to motorists in the main also apply to cyclists and are not highlighted in this post. Relevant terms used in the Code and the Act are defined at the end of the post.
The remaining discussion follows the same order as the Parts and regulations of the Road Traffic Code 2000.
There is no specified speed restrictions in the Road Traffic Code 2000 related to shared paths. On the road, the applicable speed limits apply to cyclists as they do motorists. The applicable regulation is Regulation 11: Speed Restrictions.
That said there requirements to ride on paths in a responsible manner and with due care and attention. See the discussion of regulation 229 and culpable driving.
Making Turns and Overtaking
Under the Road Traffic Code 2000 there are two aspects related to making left and right turns, which are specific to cyclists. The first relates to making right turns at intersections. Under the Code, cyclists have the option to make a right hook turn unless there is a sign to contrary. Regulation 28: Optional Hook Turns by Cyclists and Regulation 34(3) – When a right turn is not a right turn apply.
The second aspect relates to making left turns at intersections. In this aspect Western Australian differs in the wording in the regulation from the Australian Road Rules as commonly adopted in other states. Regulation 122 (4) in the Road Traffic Code 2000 adopts the following language
The rider of a bicycle shall not ride past, or overtake, to the left of a vehicle that is making, or apparently about to make, a left turn, or is signaling (sic) a left turn [our emphasis].
The difference in the WA regulation is the use of the phrase “apparently about to make” which means that cyclists cannot overtake on the left a vehicle that is turning left or is signaling a left turn at an intersection. In particular this applies at red lights where it is common to see cyclists moving forward to the head of the intersection. If a vehicle is for example signaling a left turn then it is an offence to overtake on the left.
What is not clear is the status of shallows at intersections or for that matter signed bicycle lanes. Does regulation 122 (4) still apply to a cyclist in a lane to the left of the vehicles? This question remains open.
Turning and Stop Signals
This is an interesting aspect as on one hand cyclists are vehicle drivers and hence one would assume that regulation 35 which prescribes that signals are required for left and right turns and slowing down/stopping apply. However, regulation 36 goes to explain how signals are to be given and interestingly riders of bicycles are mention only in respect to left turns (regulation 36(3)). There is no specific mention of right turn signals or stop signals.
The above notwithstanding a cyclist is a rider and hence the driver of a vehicle, a bicycle, so we argue that cyclists are required to give right and left turn signals and stop/slowing signals as per regulation 35 and 36. Such signals should be given “for long enough to give sufficient warning to other drivers and pedestrians.” (Regulation 37 refers).
Giving Way – Vehicles Crossing Shared Paths
For cyclists riding shared paths, namely Principal Shared Paths (PSP) and Recreational Shared Paths (RSP) which cross over entrance ways to car parks there are two regulations worth noting. The regulations are 57(1)(c) and 58(b) and relate to vehicles entering or leaving land abutting a carriageway, e.g., a car park.
Under these regulations cyclists and pedestrians using the shared paths have right away from vehicles entering a road from say a car park that crosses the path (i.e., exiting the car park) and those entering the car park in the similar circumstances.
With respect to roundabouts the road rules that apply to motorists also apply to cyclists with the one exception, regulation 100, which in affect allows cyclists to turn right from the left lane in a multi-lane roundabout but requires the cyclist to give-way to traffic exiting the roundabout at any exits that the cyclist needs to cross over to complete their right turn. It is in away a right-hook turn for roundabouts.
Keeping left, overtaking and other driving provisions
This part of the Road Traffic Code 2000 addresses a number of the more controversial and misunderstood aspects of cycling riding on roads.
First of all is the matter of causing an obstruction. As per regulation 108 cyclists should not unreasonably obstruct the path of another driver or pedestrian, however, as per regulation 108(3) a cyclist riding more slowly than other vehicles unless the rider is riding abnormally slow in the circumstances (i.e., compared against the reasonable cyclist) they are not causing an obstruction.
The second aspect relates to keeping left. The regulations distinguish between single lane and multi-lane roads so first lets reflect on single lane roads. All vehicles on single lane roads are required to keep “the vehicle as close as practicable to the left boundary of the carriageway” (regulation 112(1)). The key words here are “practicable” and “all vehicles.” That is the same rules apply to cyclists and motor vehicles (with the exception of motor cyclists). So it if is not practicable to keep to the left of the boundary of the carriageway a cyclist can “claim the lane.”
In regards to multi-lane roads the requirement to keep the vehicle as close as practicable to the left boundary of the carriageway is waivered (regulation 112(1)) and hence a cyclist can if they so wish claim the left lane on a multi-lane road.
Passing on the left. We have discussed the issue of overtaking on the left vehicles turning left (see above). With the exception of this aspect (regulation 122(4)) a cyclist is allowed to overtake other vehicles on the left (regulation 122 (1)).
Riding two-abreast. There are two aspects to the riding two-abreast rules in Western Australia: riding on roads and riding on paths (regulation 130). With respect to riding on roads, cyclists are allowed to ride two abreast, however, when it comes to shared-paths (PSP and RSP) riding two abreast is not allowed. The only exception to this rule and it applies to paths and roads, is that is when overtaking a cyclist can go two abreast on a path and three wide on a road.
Specific Provisions for Bicycle Riders
This part of the Road Traffic Code 2000 is cyclists’ specific area of the Code.
Part 15 of the Road Traffic Code 2000 opens with regulation 211 which spells out how we must ride a bicycle, i.e., ride facing forward, have at least one hand on the bars (no hands free riding) and finally and the most interesting aspect is a rider must remain seated, i.e., one cannot stand up (regulation 211(c)) unless the bicycle does not have seat. For the record, regulation 211(c) states:
“if the bicycle is equipped with a rider’s seat — ride the bicycle seated in or on that seat.”
Regulation 212 sets out the rules on carrying a pillion, a child on a bicycle and riding a tandem. All of this is okay as long as there is a seat and in respect to carrying children, the rider must be at least 16 years of age.
Regulation 213 deals with riding in a bicycle lane. A bicycle lane is not a shallow with painted road markings. A bicycle lane is a specific lane on a road for cyclists (see definition below for more details). It must be clearly defined by appropriate road signs, not road markings. Where a lane is a defined bicycle lane cyclists must ride in the lane as long as it is in reasonable condition for use.
Riding pedestrian crossings (and children’s crossings) is a no-no unless there is a green bicycle crossing light displayed (regulation 214).
Bicycle storage areas (those green boxes found at some intersections) are regulated under regulations 215A and 215B. Basically regulation 215A and 215B put in force the normal give-way and merge rules but in the context of bicycle storage areas.
As cyclists we are not allowed to ride on those parts of a separated footpath designated for pedestrian use only (regulation 215).
Regulation 216 is one of the more important regulations in respect to shared paths as it gives priority to pedestrians. Cyclists are required to give way to pedestrians on shared paths.
The keep left rule applies to cyclists on shared paths and is covered by regulation 217.
Cyclists are not to unreasonably obstruct or prevent the free passage of a vehicle or pedestrian. The key to this regulation is the phrase, “by moving into the path of the vehicle or pedestrian.” Regulation 219 should be considered in the context of regulation 108, which also relates to the matter of causing an obstruction (see above).
One cannot tow a bicycle or allow oneself to be towed. So no holding on to the back of vehicle for example (regulation 220).
Drafting motor vehicles is legal for 200 metres, after that one cannot ride within two metres of the rear of a motor vehicle (regulation 221).
The big one; the wearing of helmets. Regulation 222 requires that protective helmets of a type or standard approved by the Director General be worn correctly when riding on paths or roads. That said, a cyclist can be exempted from wearing a helmet if it would interfere with the wearing of religious headdress or if the cyclist has a medical exemption.
Paying passengers in three or four wheeled bicycles are also exempt from the requirement to wear a helmet. The relevant regulations are regulation 222 and 223A.
In regards to riding with children in trailers, this is allowed under regulation 223 as long as the rider of the bicycle is 16 years or older, the child being towed is under 10 years of age and the child is wearing a helmet. The trailer also has to be fit for purpose.
When riding at night or in hazardous weather conditions the bicycle must be displaying appropriate lights and reflectors (regulation 224). In summary …
- Front lights must be either flashing or steady white beams that are clearly visible for 200 metres from the front of the bicycle;
- Rear lights must be either flashing or steady red beams that are clearly visible for 200 metres from the rear of the bicycle;
- A red reflector that is clearly visible for 50 metres from the rear of the bicycle when a vehicle’s low beam light is projected on to it must be fitted;
- All wheels must have fixed to them two yellow side reflectors complying with Australian Standard AS 1927-1998 (Pedal Bicycle-Safety Requirements) and Australian Standard AS 2142-1978 (Specification for Reflectors for Pedal Bicycles);
- The pedals must have affixed to both sides of each pedal, yellow pedal reflectors complying with Australian Standard AS 2142-1978 (Specification for Reflectors for Pedal Bicycles)’
- Red reflectors are not to be placed so as to reflect red light forwards of the bicycle.
In addition to the above a bell or similar warning device in working order has to be affixed to the bike. The Road Traffic (Bicycles) Regulations 2002 regulation 7 take this a step further requiring the bell or warning device to be fixed in a convenient position.
Finally the bicycle must have at least one effective brake. The Road Traffic (Bicycles) Regulations 2002 regulation 6 provides more specific details requiring at least one brake applied to the rear wheel. The brake can be foot or hand operated. The hand brake must be in a convenient position for operation.
Regulations 225, 226 and 227 extend the regulations in respect to traffic lights to the operation of bicycle crossing lights.
If a rider wishes to ride a power assisted pedal cycle with the power assistance engaged the rider must be at least 16 years of age.
Regulation 229 applies the drink driving related road rules to cyclists in that cyclists must have proper control of their bicycle. This means that a cyclist cannot ride a bicycle on the road or on a path while under the influence of alcohol, drugs or alcohol and drugs to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the bicycle.
The second part of regulation 229, regulation 229(b) makes it an offense to ride a bicycle recklessly or without due care and attention.
Related to this regulation, as of August 1, 2008 the offense of culpable driving applies to cyclists. Culpable driving is a criminal offense and falls under the auspices of the Criminal Code of Western Australia. Section 284 of the Code deals with “culpable driving” of vehicles such as bicycles, skateboards, scooters, animals and even shopping trolleys and provides for a penalty of 10 years imprisonment for culpable driving causing death and seven years for causing grievous bodily harm. Culpable driving includes driving/riding a bike in a manner, including speed that in the circumstances is dangerous to any person. This offence for example would apply to a cyclist running down a pedestrian.
Road Traffic Act 1974 and Cycling
Do demerit points apply to cyclists? The short answer is no they do not. The Road Traffic Act 1974 section 104A(2) states that an offence cannot be a demerit point offence unless the offence involves the driving or use of a motor vehicle. Bicycles, being human powered vehicles fall outside this definition. So cyclists are safe from loosing demerit points but we can still be fined for breaking the law.
Key Terms in the Road Traffic Code 2000 and Road Traffic Act 1974
bicycle means a vehicle with 2 or more wheels that is built to be propelled by human power through a belt, chain or gears (whether or not it has an auxiliary motor) (a) including a pedicab, penny-farthing and tricycle; but (b) not including a wheelchair, wheeled recreational device, wheeled toy, scooter or a power-assisted pedal cycle (if the motor is operating);
bicycle crossing lights means a device designed to show, at different times, a green, yellow or red bicycle crossing light;
bicycle hook turn storage area means an area between an intersection and a marked foot crossing, or if there is no marked foot crossing, a stop line, before the intersection that has painted on it one or more bicycle symbols and one or more right traffic lane arrows, and includes any line that delineates the right side of the area, and any line that delineates the left side of the area that is not also a stop line or part of a marked foot crossing but does not include a bicycle storage area;
bicycle lane means a marked lane, or the part of a marked lane (a) beginning at a “bicycle lane” sign applying to the lane; and (b) ending at the nearest of the following: (i) an “end bicycle lane” sign applying to the lane; (ii) an intersection (unless the lane is at the unbroken side of the continuing road at a T-intersection or continued across the intersection by broken lines); (iii) if the carriageway ends at a dead end – the end of the carriageway;
[Key term here is “sign.” The regulations distinguish between signs and road markings].
bicycle path means a length of path beginning at a “bicycle path” sign or a “bicycle path” road marking and ending at the nearest of the following:
(a) an “end bicycle path” sign, or an “end bicycle path” road marking;
(b) a “separated footpath” sign or a “separated footpath” road marking;
(c) a carriageway;
(d) the end of the path;
bicycle path road marking means a road marking consisting of a bicycle symbol, the words “bicycles only”, or both the bicycle symbol and the word”only”;
bicycle storage area means an area of road before an intersection with traffic control signals –
(a) that has painted on it one or more bicycle symbols; and (b) that is between 2 parallel stop lines, regardless of whether the lines are of equal length; and (c) that opens out from a bicycle lane or shoulder, but does not include either stop line.
carriageway means a portion of a road that is improved, designed or ordinarily used for vehicular traffic, and includes the shoulders, and areas, including embayments, at the side or centre of the carriageway, used for the stopping or parking of vehicles; and, where a road has 2 or more of those portions divided by a median strip, the expression means each of those portions, separately;
driver means any person driving a vehicle or animal; [Road Traffic Act 1974]
footpath means an area that is open to the public that is designated for, or has as one of its main uses, use by pedestrians;
hook turn means a turn made in accordance with Part 4 Division 3 [of the Road Traffic Code 2000];
hours of darkness means the hours falling between sunset, on one day, and sunrise, on the succeeding day;
no bicycles road marking means a road marking consisting of a bicycle symbol with a diagonal line across it, or the words “no bicycles”, or both the symbol and the words;
obstruction includes a traffic hazard, but does not include a vehicle only because the vehicle is stopped in traffic or is travelling more slowly than other vehicles;
path includes bicycle path, footpath, separated footpath and shared path;
rider means the driver of, or person riding, a motor cycle, bicycle, animal or animal-drawn vehicle, but does not include a passenger, or a person walking beside and wheeling a bicycle;
road means any highway, road or street open to, or used by, the public and includes every carriageway, footway, reservation, median strip and traffic island thereon; [Road Traffic Act 1974]
road marking means a word, figure, symbol, mark, line, raised marker or stud, on the surface of a carriageway, to direct or warn traffic;
road sign means a board, plate, screen, road marking, or other device, whether or not illuminated, displaying words, figures, symbols or anything else to direct or warn traffic on, entering or leaving a road;
shared path means an area open to the public (except a separated footpath) that is designated for, or has as one of its main uses, use by both the riders of bicycles and pedestrians, and includes a length of path beginning at a “shared path” sign or “shared path” road marking and ending at the nearest of the following:
(a) an “end shared path” sign or “end shared path” road marking; (b) a “no bicycles” sign, or a “no bicycles” road marking; (c) a “bicycle path” sign; (d) a carriageway; (e) the end of the path;
vehicle includes –
(a) every conveyance, not being a train, vessel or aircraft, and every object capable of being propelled or drawn, on wheels or tracks, by any means; and (b) where the context permits, an animal being driven or ridden; [Road Traffic Act 1974]
*The Western Australian Parliamentary Counsel’s Office has published a guide to reading legislation, titled, How to read legislation, a beginner’s guide. Well worth a read if you are not familiar with legislation.