Keeping left, overtaking and other driving rules

Handy answers to frequently asked questions

Have you ever wondered if it is legal to reverse out of a driveway? Or what rules apply to traffic lights at a freeway on-ramp?
What is a safe distance to leave when driving? This page covers a variety of commonly asked questions.

Changing lanes

If you are changing lanes, regardless of whether there is line marking, you must indicate.

This signal must be for long enough to give sufficient warning to other drivers and pedestrians. Once a driver has changed lanes, they must stop signalling.

A driver must also indicate if entering a marked lane or adjacent queue of traffic, for example where the road widens and a new lane is available.

A driver changing lanes or joining an adjacent queue must give way to any vehicles already travelling in the lane or queue in the same direction.

Where the lane or queue of traffic ends, merging rules apply.

For more information about changing lanes, and when line marking does not allow lane changes see the section dividing lines.

For more information see the Victorian Road Safety Road Rules rules 45, 46 and 48.

 

Driving on a nature strip

A driver must not drive on a nature strip adjacent to a length of road in a built-up area unless the driver is entering or leaving adjacent land or a road-related area by the shortest route and in a way allowed by any traffic control devices (e.g. signs) present. 

Cutting grass using a ride-on lawnmower, driving a motorised wheelchair and riding a bicycle or animal is allowed unless signs say otherwise.   

Posties delivering mail are also allowed to ride bicycles or low-powered motorcycles on nature strips as long as they give way to all pedestrians, take precautions to avoid crashes, do not exceed a speed of no more than 10km/h and have an engine capacity up to 125cc.

A driver who is driving on a nature strip, excluding the rider of an animal and drivers using the nature strip to enter or exit a road related area or adjacent lane, must give way to all other road users and animals on the nature strip.

For information about parking on nature strips see the parking and stopping section.

For more information see the Victorian Road Safety Road Rules rule 289.

Keeping a safe distance

Tailgating another vehicle is unsafe and illegal. The Road Rules state that a driver must keep sufficient distance from the vehicle in front so they can stop safely to avoid a collision.

RACV recommends drivers allow a minimum of two seconds gap between their vehicle and the one in front. At 60km/h this equates to 33 metres and at 100km/h it equates to 55 metres. These should be considered minimum distances to keep from the vehicle in front, more is often needed to safely stop in conditions such as rain or poor visibility.

To calculate the two second gap, pick a fixed object located on the side of the road. As the rear of the vehicle in front passes the object start to count ‘one thousand and one, one thousand and two’. The front of your vehicle should not reach the fixed object until after you have finished counting. If it does, slow down and allow more room between the vehicles.

The Road Rules also specify that drivers of long vehicles (7.5 metres in length or more) must leave a minimum of 60 metres distance, or 200 metres if in a road train area, behind another long vehicle unless driving on a multi-lane road, in a built-up area, or overtaking.

Maintaining a sufficient distance between vehicles allows a driver time to look at mirrors, signs, side roads and any vehicles in front while maintaining enough distance to stop safely and avoid a collision.

For more information see the Victorian Road Safety Road Rules rules 126 and 127.

Keep left unless overtaking

Keeping to the left on a multi-lane road is not only courteous to other drivers, it’s in the rules.

Drivers must stay out of the right lane when driving on a multi-lane road with a speed limit of more than 80km/h or where a ‘Keep Left Unless Overtaking’ sign applies. A multi-lane road is a road with two or more marked traffic lanes in the same direction.

The exceptions to this are when a driver is turning right or making a U-turn from the centre of the road and has their right-turn indicator on, overtaking another vehicle, avoiding an obstruction, travelling where signs or arrows indicate this is allowed (such as where a ‘Left Lane Must Turn Left’ sign applies and the driver is not turning left) or where traffic in other lanes is congested.

This rule only applies to the far right lane. Drivers may drive in the left and centre lanes on a road with three or more lanes in each direction, unless signs or markings on the road indicate otherwise.

A ‘Keep Left Unless Overtaking’ sign applies for the length of road from the first sign until an ‘End Keep Left Unless Overtaking’ sign, road markings on the surface of the road or signage indicate that the road is no longer a multi-lane road or the road ends, for example at a T-intersection or a dead end. ‘Keep Left Unless Overtaking’ signs on multi-lane roads with a speed limit above 80km/h are a reminder only, they are not necessary for the law to be enforced.

However, even where it is not legally necessary to keep left, it is courteous (when practical) to do so on all multi lane roads.

For more information see the Victorian Road Safety Road Rules rule 130.

Merging

On Victoria’s road network there are two types of merging.

The first type of merge is where vehicles must cross a dashed line (Figure 1).  This commonly occurs when joining freeway traffic and on rural highways at the end of overtaking lanes. In this case, the vehicle crossing the line must give way to any vehicle already travelling in the lane the driver wishes to enter. This is because they are changing lanes.

On freeways, merging vehicles should try to not stop to give way as this causes traffic to bank up, however they do have a responsibility to find a suitable, safe gap to merge into. Other drivers can assist by being courteous and adjusting speeds or changing lanes if possible to create a suitable gap.



The second type of merge is when two lanes join together and there is no dashed line (Figure 2). In this situation the driver who is further back must give way to the vehicle in front. This type of merge is commonly known as a ‘Zip-merge’ and commonly when the number of lanes on a road reduces or a lane changes into a turning lane.

In both merging situations, drivers wanting to merge should try and match the speed of the traffic they are joining.

For more information see the Victorian Road Safety Road Rules rules 148 and 149.

Two cars merging lanes

Figure 1

Two cars merging lanes without dashed line

Figure 2

Obstructions

An obstruction is defined as including a traffic hazard. But it does not include a vehicle only because the vehicle is stopped in traffic or is travelling more slowly than other vehicles.

The term ‘obstruction’ is used in the following Road Rules: driving on a painted island, making a turn; keeping to the left; stopping on a road; driving to the right of the centre of the road; driving in lines or lanes of traffic; driving on or across a continuous white edge line; and driving in special purpose lanes such as bicycle, bus, tram, transit or truck lanes.

An obstruction includes parked cars or roadworks, but does not include:

  • a cyclist only because they are travelling more slowly than other traffic
  • a bus that is stopped, but not parked (e.g. when it is idling when it is letting off or picking up passengers) or moving slowly.

It is important to note that although the rules may allow a driver to, for example, drive to the right of the centre of the road or any dividing line to avoid an obstruction there are also other rules that need to be followed. The driver must also ensure they have a clear view of any approaching traffic, it is necessary and reasonable to do so and the driver can do so safely.

Overtaking

The Road Rules require that you must not overtake a vehicle unless you have a clear view of oncoming traffic, and it is safe to overtake.

A driver must not overtake, or do a U-turn across a single continuous centre line, or a single continuous line to the left of a broken line. A driver may only cross the above line markings to enter or leave the road (for example turning into a side street or driveway), or to avoid an obstruction, provided the driver has a clear view of approaching traffic, it is necessary, reasonable and safe to do so.

When overtaking, you must pass the other vehicle at a sufficient distance to avoid a collision or obstructing the path of the vehicle being overtaken. You must not return to your lane until you are a sufficient distance past the overtaken vehicle to avoid a collision or obstructing its path.

When being overtaken by another vehicle on a two-way road, you must not increase your speed until the overtaking vehicle has passed you, has returned to the correct side of the road and is of a sufficient distance in front of you as to avoid a collision.

You must not overtake a vehicle on the left, unless you are on a multi-lane road and the vehicle can be safely overtaken in a marked lane, or the vehicle you wish to overtake is turning right or making a u-turn from the centre of the road and is giving a right change of direction signal.

Similarly, you must not overtake to the right of a vehicle if the vehicle is turning right or making a u-turn from the centre of the road and is giving a right change of direction signal.

Bicycle riders are allowed to overtake to the left of a vehicle, unless that vehicle is turning left and indicating.

For the rules on when you can and can’t overtake across dividing lines, see the section dividing lines.

For more information see the Victorian Road Safety Road Rules rules 140 to 145.

Reversing

The Victorian Road Rules require that a driver must not drive a vehicle in reverse unless the driver can do so safely, and must not reverse a vehicle further than is reasonable in the circumstances. 

A little bit of common sense can go a long way to reducing the number of accidents that occur as a result of someone reversing a vehicle. If your rear view is limited, take it slow and cautiously, remembering to check your left, right and rear views before and during the manoeuvre. You may wish to give a few brief taps to your horn and if you have a passenger, it may be advantageous to have them out of the vehicle to guide you. And you should always try to anticipate the unexpected, such as a pedestrian suddenly appearing, or a vehicle travelling along looking for that ever elusive parking spot.

When a driver wants to enter a road from a driveway, or vice versa, the driver is required to give way to any vehicles already travelling on the road, as well as any pedestrians or bicycle riders on the footpath that the driver must cross. 

It doesn’t matter whether that driveway is private or used for commercial purposes, such as a service station or a shopping centre, the rules remain the same.

 For more information see the Victorian Road Safety Road Rules rule 296.