Cycling and the Law: Bike Laws Across Australia

cycling laws

With the number of cyclists in Australia increasing, and the steps taken by major cities around the country to become more bicycle-friendly, it’s fair to say that Australians are a bike-loving country. Whether it’s a casual ride to and from school, a lycra-clad pack ride on a Thursday morning, or an easy Sunday roll by the beach, you’ll be sure to see plenty of Aussies out and about on bikes.

If you’re a cyclist, or are looking at getting a bike to make your ride to university easier, there are a few laws—and some exceptions—that you’re going to want to pay attention to. And be careful, because breaking some of these laws can come with a pretty hefty fine.

Standard laws

In Australia, on the whole cyclists must follow the same rules as drivers: stop at stop signs, only turn where you’re allowed to, don’t ride up one-way streets, that sort of thing. However, there are some laws that are specific to cyclists. Across the country there are a number of cycling laws that remain the same, no matter which State you live in:

  • Cyclists must follow the same road rules as drivers
  • Cyclists must not ride more than two people side-by-side, and no more than 1.5 metres apart
  • Cyclists must not hold on to another vehicle while it’s driving
  • Cyclists must have at least one hand on the handlebar at all times
  • Bicycles must have working brakes and a working bell, horn, or similar warning device
  • When riding at night, all bicycles must have correct lights
  • Cyclists must ride the correct way along bike paths
  • Cyclists must not lead an animal while riding—so no taking your dog for a run

Most of these laws are common sense—stay visible, ride the right way, be safe, don’t be stupid, and are adopted to make sure both cyclists and drivers all stay safe. As well as these standard laws, each State, has its own specific cycling laws—and interestingly enough, not every State feels the same way about bike helmets, or riding on the footpath.

Below we’ve listed some of the differences you’ll find, depending on the state you’re in.

New South Wales

New South Wales recently introduced some new cycling laws, and they’ve been met with significant backlash and public complaint. There was even a proposed law to require cyclists to carry ID at all times, but this never went through.

  • Cyclists must wear a helmet at all times, unless you have medical, cultural, or religious reasons not to
  • Cyclists are not allowed to ride on footpaths
  • Cyclists must have a bell on their bikes
  • Cyclists are encouraged to carry ID at all times

Fines for cycling offences range from $71 up to $425 across the board, so always be sure to wear a helmet, stop at red lights, don’t hold on to moving vehicles—and generally just ride safely.

More information

Victoria

Being such a bike-friendly city, Melbourne has a large network of bike paths, and laws in place to protect cyclists, but also to make roads and footpaths safer for other users:

  • Cyclists must wear a helmet at all times, unless you have medical, cultural, or religious reasons not to
  • Cyclists must not ride on footpaths
  • Cyclists must not use a mobile phone while riding

As such, they’ve also got some pretty strong fines in place, too:

  • Riding in a No Bicycle zone – $155
  • Failure to use a bike lane – $155
  • Failure to signal – $155
  • Carrying a passenger improperly on your bike – $155
  • Not wearing a helmet – $185
  • Driving too close behind a moving vehicle – $233
  • Failure to stop at a red light – $389

More information

Queensland

Queensland takes a tough stance on helmets, and has equally tough fines to match:

  • Cyclists must wear a helmet at all times, unless you have medical, cultural, or religious reasons not to
  • Cyclists are only allowed to ride on a footpath where indicated
  • Using a horn, bell, or similar other than as needed – $73
  • Failure to wear a helmet – $121 fine
  • Failure to give way – $121
  • Exceeding the speed limit by 13km/h – $162
  • Following another vehicle too closely – $248
  • Cyclist drinking alcohol while riding – $365

More information

South Australia

South Australia’s cycling laws get quite specific:

  • Cyclists are allowed to ride on footpaths unless stated otherwise, but must give a warning to pedestrians prior to overtaking
  • Cyclists must wear a helmet at all times, unless you have medical, cultural, or religious reasons not to
  • Cyclists must not ride within two metres of the back of a moving vehicle for more than 200m
  • Cyclists will be fined for riding under the influence of drugs or with a blood alcohol level of 0.05 or over—so no more than 1 standard 425ml glass of beer

The fines are a little more lenient than other states, but are clearly in place for safety reasons:

  • Failure to give warning to pedestrians on footpath – $53
  • Turning or changing lanes incorrectly – $53
  • Carrying someone else on your bicycle – $53
  • Failure to give way – $53
  • Riding without helmet – $93
  • Holding on to moving vehicle – $93

More information

Western Australia

Western Australia’s cycling laws are quite straightforward, in line with their push to make Perth a more bike-friendly city:

  • Cyclists are allowed to ride on the footpath unless otherwise stated
  • Cyclists must use bike lanes where marked
  • Cyclists must wear a helmet at all times, unless you have medical, cultural, or religious reasons not to
  • Bikes are not allows on buses
  • Bikes are not allowed on trains to Perth between 7am-9am
  • Bikes are not allowed on trains from Perth to 4.30pm-6.30pm

Fines range from $50 for not wearing a helmet, to $100 for incorrect lighting at night, or riding closer than two metres behind a moving vehicle.

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Australian Capital Territory

Canberra is a relaxed mix of all other states’ laws:

  • Cyclists must wear a helmet at all times, unless you have medical, cultural, or religious reasons not to. This law is currently under discussion for review, and may change in regards to low-speed areas
  • Hand signals are not compulsory when stopping or turning left
  • Cyclists are allowed to ride on footpaths
  • Cyclists must use cycles lanes where available

Cycling fines in the Australian Capital Territory all come in at $132, whether you’re not wearing a helmet, you’re speeding, you’re carrying someone else on your bike, or you’ve got no hands on your handlebars.

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Tasmania

Tasmania’s bike laws are aimed at users staying safe, and are a bit more laid back than other states’:

  • Cyclists must wear a helmet at all times, unless you have medical, cultural, or religious reasons not to
  • Cyclists are allowed to ride on footpaths unless otherwise stated
  • Cyclists must use bike lanes when they’re available

Tasmania’s cycling fines, however, are very high, with fines ranging from $260 to $650—so you always want to make sure you’re riding safely in Tasmania.

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Northern Territory

The Northern Territory has some of the most relaxed bike laws around, with all fines coming in at a flat $25. Some people argue that this relaxed attitude encourages more people to take up cycling, thereby making cyclists more visible, and making cycling safer over all.

  • Cyclists under 17 must wear a helmet at all times
  • Cyclists over 17 are only required to wear a helmet when riding on the roads, they’re not required on footpaths
  • Cyclists must always use the on-road bike lanes where they’re available

More information