Cyclists and vehicles share the road, and it is important to realise that there are strict rules about passing people on pushbikes. Nonetheless, as we showed previously, using an actual pool noodle to demonstrate how it’s nearly impossible to do the right thing when passing a cyclist.
- The road isn’t just for cars, so be aware of the rules for passing cyclists
- It is legal to overtake cyclists over double white lines if you can see ahead
- Margin for error is minimal, with potentially fatal outcomes
The laws around what is known as “passing distance”, or how far you should stay away from a cyclist when you’re overtaking them, are enforced nationwide, with the same rule applied in terms of minimum passing distance.
It is referred to as the “1 metre rule” for the most part, but even that is a bit misleading, because the nationwide road rule is that drivers of cars, utes, buses, trucks and motorcycles must allow a distance of at least one metre (1m) between themselves and a bicycle rider on roads where the speed limit is 60km/h or less. When the speed limit is higher than 60km/h, the distance must be 1.5m.
Even though it is a national law, there are some considerations based on different jurisdictions.
The ACT has been the subject of a study by the University of Adelaide which showed that almost 10 percent of drivers didn’t comply with the “minimum passing distance”, and troublingly, the instance of improper passing was higher on roads with speed limits above 60km/h.
In that jurisdiction, ACT Police advise that “if it is not safe to pass, drivers must wait behind the cyclist until the road conditions change”. Should a driver be caught doing the wrong thing, they receive a $292 fine and two demerit points.
In New South Wales, it is advised that, if you’re in a queue of traffic behind cyclists and you feel pressured by other road users to overtake but it is not safe to do so, that you only pass when it is safe.
You can cross single and double white lines to pass bicycles, but only if you have a clear view of approaching traffic and it’s safe to do so.
Offenders caught doing the wrong thing could cop a $352 fine and two demerit points, while the maximum court fine is $2200.
In Victoria if you fail to follow the rules you could receive an on-the-spot penalty of $330, or a maximum court-imposed penalty of $1652, as well as an “improper overtaking or passing offence” which incurs two demerit points. “This is the same as current penalties for overtaking a vehicle without leaving a sufficient distance”, the TAC says.
Victorians are also allowed to cross the centre markings (solid, double white lines, or painted islands) to overtake a bicyclist if it is safe to do so.
Queensland has the same rule: 60km/h or under, motorists must leave a gap of at least 1m between their vehicle and bicycle riders when passing; over 60km/h, the gap must be at least 1.5m.
The rules allow for vehicles to cross white solid or double white lines or painted islands to pass a cyclist or personal mobility vehicle.
If you are found to be in contravention of the minimum passing law in QLD, it’s big bikkies according to the state’s transport authority: “As a motorist, you will get 3 demerit points and a $431 fine if you do not give the minimum distance when you pass a bicycle or personal mobility device rider. If the matter goes to court, a maximum fine of more than $5,700 may apply.”
Western Australia imposes sizable penalties for offenders who do not comply with the 1m or 1.5m passing laws. Drivers could be fined $400 and incur four demerit points.
South Australia puts it out there in black and white, with the Road Users Handbook stating: “Cyclists have less protection than motorists and are more likely to be injured if a crash happens, so they need adequate space when on the road. The rule applies to all types of vehicles including cars, motorbikes, trucks and buses when passing a cyclist”
Do the wrong thing in SA, and you may be liable to pay a $287 fine, $60 victims of crime levy, and incur two demerit points.
Tasmania follows the same laws, with provisions for road users to be able to “cross centre lines, straddle lane-lines and drive on painted islands to safely overtake a cyclist, provided the driver has a clear view of any approaching traffic and that it is safe to do so”.
Should a driver incorrectly pass a cyclist, they may be fined up to $159.
And the Northern Territory acknowledges that cyclist safety is crucial but also puts the onus on riders to be mindful of the road, according to that jurisdictions road safety and rules database. “Cyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as other road users. It is important that all cyclists obey the road rules.”
Drivers can: “Move across lanes or straddle lanes where a vehicle is positioned over lane lines; drive to the right of the middle of the road; cross over or drive to the right of the dividing line, including double solid lines; drive on or over continuous lines around a painted island; drive on a dividing strip that is at the same level as the road. These exemptions only apply if you have a clear view of any approaching traffic and it is safe to do so.”
While it doesn’t appear there is a specific fine for not abiding by the rules for passing a cyclist, the Northern Territory Law Handbook points out that “a person caught driving without due care can be issued an on the spot fine of $150”.
Not intended as legal advice. Check with the relevant roads authority in your state or territory.