The rollout of protected bike lanes has left an old road rule out-of-date and incompatible with the new road layouts.
Road rule 141(2) states that, ‘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.’
This rule seemed fair enough in the old days when bike lanes (if one was marked at all) would end well before an intersection and bicycle riders would merge with traffic in the left lane and pass to the right of left-turning cars.
However, in these new days of protected bike lanes, bicycle riders are directed to the left of vehicles by design and this has not been accompanied by any new regulatory requirements for turning drivers to give way to bicycle riders.
This post will outline an interpretation of road rule 141(2) before discussing the reality on the ground and will close with suggestions for reform.
Side note: This post should not be interpreted as being opposed to protected bike lanes. They are necessary for safety and provide bicycle riders with much greater confidence. We just happen to find ourselves in a transitional stage and the road rules have not caught up.
Interpreting road rule 141(2)
When interpreting this road rule, it is important to note what the rule does not say.
There appears to be an understanding that the rule requires bicycle riders to give way to left-turning vehicles and that drivers turning left do not need to give way to bicycle riders.
This is incorrect. Road rule 141 does not refer to giving way and it is not found in one of the sections in the road rules that refers to giving way.
This misunderstanding is not helped by the Dept. of Transport graphic at the head of this post that refers to giving way.
Rule 141 provides rules for overtaking. For bicycle riders, rule 141(2) does exactly as it says. ‘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.’
Ambiguity arises when we try to determine when a vehicle is turning left.
It is probably correct to say that a vehicle stopped in a line of traffic is not in the act of turning left and so bicycle riders are free to pass to the left of the vehicle.
However, the Magistrates’ Court appears to have decided that a vehicle is in the act of turning left when it enters an intersection even if that vehicle is stopped to give way to crossing pedestrians.
In that instance, a bicycle rider must not pass to the left of the vehicle.
But there are times that other road rules (and combination of rules) instruct a driver wishing to make a turn to give way to bicycle riders.
For these rules to have any effect in the shadow of rule 141(2), we must assume that rule 141(2) does not apply when the driver is instructed to give way to bicycle riders.
For instance, road rule 62(1)(b) states that, ‘A driver turning at an intersection with traffic lights must give way to— any rider of a bicycle at or near the intersection with bicycle crossing lights who is crossing the road the driver is entering.’
This arrangement is found at the new bicycle protected intersection at Albert and Lansdowne streets in East Melbourne, which has been specifically designed to replicate bicycle infrastructure from the Netherlands.
The new protected intersection can only function as intended if turning drivers give way to bicycle riders.
There is also a combination of rules that imply that a driver intending to turn left at an intersection must first merge into the bike lane and, in doing so, give way to any bicycle riders in the bike lane.
- A bicycle is a vehicle
- A bike lane is a marked lane (but is not included in the definition of a multi-lane road)
- A driver must turn left from the far left of the road (except in the case of a multi-lane road)
- A driver may enter a bike lane for up to 50 metres to make a left turn
- ‘A driver who is moving from one marked lane (whether or not the lane is ending) to another marked lane must give way to any vehicle travelling in the same direction as the driver in the marked lane to which the driver is moving.’
This is clear enough (if you have followed the points above) to apply to a traditional painted bike lane that comes within 50 metres of an intersection.
However, in the case of protected bike lanes, a driver cannot effectively merge into the bike lane to make a left turn. Instead, the driver must cross the bike lane in a similar fashion to the pedestrian crossing.
Drivers turning at an intersection are required to give way to pedestrians crossing the road the driver is entering (per multiple rules set out in parts 6 and 7) but no blanket rule exists for giving way to crossing bicycle riders in similar circumstances.
Side note: The circumstances outlined by the points above do not appear to apply to a multi-lane road if the left vehicle lane is marked with a left turning arrow and also if the driver chooses not to merge into the bike lane (per rules 28 and 92).
There are other combinations of rules and definitions that may have a similar effect to that outlined above, including rules regarding multi-lane roads and a long tangent into the impact of a ‘line of traffic’, but that has been omitted for length.
Reality on the ground
Road rules are one thing, but the experience on the ground is something much different. Almost no-one is likely to understand road rule 141(2), if they know it exists at all.
Instead, the design of the road and the characteristics of traffic in any given place are likely to determine whether drivers intending to turn will give way to bicycle riders.
While not the best example, a location with a new protected bike lane where turning drivers nearly always give way to bicycle riders is from William Street southward into Franklin Street eastward.
Here turning drivers are slowed by the tighter turning radii and the bicycle movement is clearly defined with a green surface treatment and bicycle markings.
An example with a new protected bike lane where turning drivers tend not to give way to bicycle riders (especially when the rider arrives during rather than at the start of the green phase) is from Rathdowne Street southward into Victoria Street eastward.
In reforming road rule 141(2), we should look to the road user hierarchy that shows which modes should be prioritised and who should be presumed at fault in a crash.
Since the hierarchy places bicycle riders above public transport and private motor vehicles, road rules should be reformed and roads should be designed to highlight this principle.
Using the hierarchy principle, the burden placed upon bicycle riders in rule 141(2) should instead be placed upon drivers turning left. This reversal of the burden is the first suggested reform from consultation in a VicRoads review of bicycle-related road rules (page 85).
The outcomes in accordance with the above principle should be as follows:
- Drivers merging into a bike lane should give way to any bicycle rider in the lane. This is already the case as outlined by the combination of rules above
- Drivers should not enter a bike lane to turn left. Further discussion is needed into the practicality of this point
- Drivers who need to cross, rather than merge into, a bike lane to make a left turn should give way to bicycle riders in the bike lane or riders coming from the bike lane in the instances where the lane is not continued through an intersection
- Where there is a bicycle lane, road design should clearly delineate and prioritise the bicycle movement on the approach to and through intersections.
Adopting these principles in the road rules and in design guidance could be achieved as follows:
- All rules in parts 6 and 7 that refer to giving way at intersections should be amended to include a subclause such as, ‘If there is a marked bicycle lane in the direction a driver is moving on the approach to, or through, the intersection, a driver turning left must give way to any rider of a bicycle in, or near, the bicycle lane who is travelling across the path of the driver’.
- Rule 141(2) should be amended to state e.g., ‘Unless there is a marked bicycle lane on the approach to, or through, an intersection, 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’.
- Discussions should consider an amendment to Rule 27 to permit road authorities to direct drivers to turn left from a specific lane and not from the far left of the road. For example, ‘Subrule (1) does not apply if a left direction arrow is marked in one, or more, lane(s) in which case the driver must turn left from the lane(s) in which an arrow is marked’.
- Discussions should consider an amendment to Rule 158 to permit road authorities to prevent drivers from entering a special purpose lane. For example, ‘Subrule (1)(b) does not apply if a left direction arrow is marked in one, or more, lane(s) beside a special purpose lane in which case the driver must turn left from a lane in which an arrow is marked’.
- A road design note or supplement to existing road design guidance should be developed to specify the necessary design and delineation of bike movements on the approach to and through intersections.
The example amendments to rules 27 and 158 (that currently require/permit drivers to enter special purpose lanes for a permitted distance) would give full discretion to road authorities to determine whether or not a vehicle can effectively make a left turn without merging into a special purpose lane.
These amendments would be along the lines of the third option for reform suggested by VicRoads’ review into bicycle-related road rules. Of course, achieving the principles outlined above is bound to be possible in a number of ways and not only by the road rule amendments proposed in this post.
In the second half of 2021 the Dept. of Transport resumed its review into bicycle-related road rules including those regarding giving way at intersections. We hope that the review will strive to simplify conditions on the ground and maximise the importance of good design, and will rectify the current outdated and dangerous rules.