Keeping left, overtaking and other driving rules

This section covers:

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 and do not ride within five metres of a shop, elderly citizen’s or disabled centre, kindergarten or pre-school centre, and at a speed of no more than 10km/h.

 For more information see the Victorian Road Safety Road Rules 2009 rule 289.

Keep left unless overtaking

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

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.

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 2009 rule 130.

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 2009 rules 126 and 127.

Illustration of a car merging from the left

Merging

On Victoria’s road network there are two types of merging situations. The first is when two lanes join together and there is no dashed line (Diagram 1). In this situation the vehicle in front goes first, regardless of whether the vehicle is on the left or right. This type of merge is commonly known as a ‘Zip-merge’.

Illustration of a car merging over a dashed line

The second type of merge is where vehicles must cross a dashed line (Diagram 2). In this situation the vehicle crossing the line must give way to any vehicle already travelling in the lane the driver wishes to enter. This type of merge commonly occurs on freeway entry ramps and on rural highways at the end of passing lanes.

On freeways, merging vehicles should not stop to give way, but they 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.

In both merging situations, drivers wanting to merge should try and match the speed of the traffic they are joining. Differences in traffic speeds can make merging difficult and may cause crashes. Stopping before entering the traffic stream can lead to rear-end crashes, and it is almost impossible for merging vehicles to find a large-enough gap in the traffic to accelerate from a stopped situation to safely join the traffic stream.

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

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

Part-time tram lanes

There are a number of part-time tram lanes located around Melbourne which operate during peak periods.  They are currently identified by tram lane signs overhead (see shown at right) and a continuous yellow line alongside the tram tracks.

To improve tram travel times, reliability and safety, VicRoads has installed electronic overhead tram signs and flashing road markers along some part time tram lanes. 

The overhead signs and road markers are provided to remind motorists that the part-time tram lane is in operation and alert them to keep off the tram tracks. During the morning peak, when the part-time lanes are in operation, the electronic overhead signs and road markers will flash, indicating to motorists that they must move off the tram tracks and into the left lane during these times

Whether the part-time tram lane is identified by static signs and line markings or the newer flashing signs and road markers, drivers are not allowed to travel in a tram lane during the hours of operation except to:

  • enter or leave the road; or
  • make a right hand turn; or
  • avoid an obstruction (such as a parked car).

These exceptions apply as long as you do not delay a tram or travel in the lane for more than 50 metres.  

Parking or stopping is not permitted alongside part-time tram lanes during the hours of operation.

For more information see the Victorian Road Safety Road Rules rule 158.

Ramp metering

At some freeway entry ramps, traffic lights control the flow of traffic. At these locations, a driver must not proceed past the stop line until the light is green.

Reversing out of driveways

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.

Special purpose lanes

On some roads lanes are set aside during certain hours or at all times for use by designated vehicles such as bicycles, trucks, public transport vehicles or private vehicles with multiple occupants. These restrictions are set out on signs.

Bike lanes, bus lanes, trams lanes and truck lanes

The only vehicles permitted to use bicycle lanes are bicycles, the only vehicles permitted to use most bus lanes are buses, coaches and bicycles, tram lanes are for trams and public buses only, and truck lanes are for trucks only. Some exceptions are explained below.

Tram lanes are marked along the left side of the tram tracks (in the direction of travel) by a continuous yellow line in addition to the tram lane signs. Other types of lanes (bus or truck lanes) must have appropriate signs or road markings. Some lanes are highlighted with coloured pavement (green for bicycle lanes, red for bus lanes).

For more information see the Victorian Road Safety Road Rules rules 153, 154 and 155.

Transit lanes

Public transport vehicles, taxis and motor bikes can use transit lanes, regardless of the number of passengers. However, private vehicles must have at least the same number of occupants (including the driver) as displayed on the sign. For example if the transit lane is signed as ‘T2’ then the driver must have at least one passenger in the vehicle.

For more information see the Victorian Road Safety Road Rules rule 156.

Emergency stopping lanes

See the section on emergency stopping lanes.

Exceptions

There are a few exceptions to the rules for special purpose lanes. Drivers of any vehicle may use bicycle or tram lanes for a distance of 50 metres or 100 metres for any other lane if it is necessary for the driver to:

  • enter or leave the road;
  • overtake a vehicle that is turning right, or making a U-turn from the centre of the road;
  • avoid an obstruction; or
  • if information on a traffic sign indicates that the driver may drive in the lane.

Motorcyclists are permitted to use the southbound bus lane on Hoddle St, Collingwood at present, as part of a long-term trial. Look for signs about whether approval to use the lane has concluded or check the VicRoads website. Motorcyclists using the Hoddle Street lane must obey the ‘B’ traffic lights that apply to the lane.

For more information see the Victorian Road Safety Road Rules rules 280 to 286.

If stopping or parking is not prohibited in a bicycle lane, a driver may drive for up to 50 metres in the bicycle lane to stop or park.  Drivers of public buses, public minibuses or taxis who are dropping off, or picking up, passengers may also drive in a bicycle lane for up to 50 metres.

For more information see the Victorian Road Safety Road Rules rule 158.