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Road rules and safety tips for cyclists
In Australia, road rules are set by the state and territory governments and while the rules in all states are closely related, when it comes to cycling there are a few small differences. You can find links to each state's rules at the bottom of this page. While the rules differ around the country, here are some basic safety rules that will see you ride between states without being pulled over by a police officer.
- Helmets are compulsory in Australia and you can be fined for not wearing one. No arguments.
- Traffic moves on the left-hand side of the road and bicycles should keep to the left unless turning or overtaking.
- When riding in busy traffic, cyclist can and should use road shoulders, bike lanes and bike paths where appropriate.
- Cyclists must obey traffic signals. Yes, you too need to stop at red lights.
- At crossings and shared paths, cyclists must give way to pedestrians.
- When cycling at night, bikes must be fitted with a bright headlight and tail light. In NSW, rear lights must be visible from 200m, and this is a good safety guide.
- Bikes should be fitted with a rear reflector.
- Cyclists are permitted to take up the lane and ride two abreast (although many drivers don't know that and will complain about it on talk-back radio).
- Use hand signals when riding in traffic.
In addition to the rules, here are some widely-accepted cycling etiquette tips:
- Wear clothing that makes you stand out from your environment. Bright colours are best.
- When cycling on shared paths, use a bell to alert pedestrians you are approaching rather than zoom past. It can be scary for them and creates an unnecessary foe.
- The rules for cycling on footpaths differ from state to state. In NSW for instance, cyclists are not allowed to ride on footpaths (that's Aussie for pavement/sidewalks) unless accompanying a child under 12 , however, riders are permitted on footpaths in the QLD, ACT and NT. If using a footpath, always give way to pedestrians and in areas with heavy foot traffic, it is best to dismount and walk your bike.
- Ride predictably: don't swerve in and out of moving traffic or parked cars.
- Always say hi to another cycle tourist :)
If you are cycling around regional Australia, you will no doubt come across roadtrains, that is, large trucks usually pulling two or three carriages, but sometimes more. These are no ordinary trucks and if one of these vehicles is coming up behind you and can't safely overtake (it will need to see a clear road ahead for up to 500 metres), the etiquette is simply get off the road. If one is coming in the opposite direction on a narrow strip of road, the etiquette is get off the road. That may seem unfair, but even cars often need to get off the road for roadtrains (unfortunately, tourists and others from the big smoke don't know to give way and don't, so don't follow their lead.)
So what's all the fuss about? Roadtrains are dangerous. Australia has the heaviest road-legal vehicles in the world, and while the average truck weighs between 80 and 120 tonnes, some top out at 200 tonnes. How much does your bike weight again?
When fully laden, these giants risks losing control if forced to deviate more than one metre from a straight line when travelling at speed, and that's a dangerous situation for all involved. The weight they carry is so heavy that it can take a large roadtrain up to 1km to come to a stop.
When it comes to cyclists, there are even more reasons as to why you should take a few seconds out of your ride to pull off the road: roadtrains create vortexes that have been known to suck cyclists towards the wheels from a distance of up to 5m in certain conditions. The wheels also kick up rocks at a dangerous speed, a big reason why cars are also advised to move off the road as well.
So while it may be a little annoying, be sensible and give way to roadtrains, not just for your own safety, but for the driver's as well.