The forgotten road rules when driving with public transport in Victoria

A Melbourne metro train going over a level crossing

Nicola Dowse

Posted January 17, 2023

Motorists are being urged to ‘stop when the red lights flash’ at level crossings, but that’s not the only oft-forgotten road rule to remember when driving around trains, trams and buses. 

Public transport is a vital part of Victoria's infrastrure, helping residents complete millions of journeys every year by train, tram or bus. Even if you're not a passenger, it's hard to avoid the state's large public transport network.

Knowing the rules around public transport in Victoria is integral for motorists as well as for pedestrians and cyclists. You might be surprised by some of the lesser known rules!

The dangers of level crossings

Melbourne’s level crossings have been in the spotlight quite a bit over the last few years, with more than half of them being removed to improve safety and reduce congestion.

But with train tracks crisscrossing our roads across the state, it’s not just urban Melburnians that need to be mindful of the motoring rules around trains and level crossings. 

A survey conducted by the Department of Transport in 2022 showed that an estimated 370,000 motorists drove over regional level crossings without slowing down. In the five years leading up to 2022 there were 63 incidents reported at regional level crossings, including four serious collisions.

While regional residents may feel familiar with their local level crossings and their timetables, VicRoads is urging drivers to stop when the red lights flash at level crossings, no matter how well you think you might know them. 

“Not knowing the rules around level crossings can put yourself and others at risk,” says James Williams, Head of Policy at RACV. “Drivers and pedestrians should never enter a level crossing if warning lights are flashing, warning bells are ringing or boom gates are closed, closing or in the process of opening.”

Failure to do so not only risks fines of up to $3,698 and the loss of four demerit points, it can also cost you your life and drastically impact the lives of train drivers, passengers, emergency services personnel, your family and local community. 

“With around 75 per cent of RACV Members using public transport at least once a month it’s important motorists know the rules to keep the entire community safe.” 

A level crossing in the Australian outback

You should always slow down and heed warning lights and signs. Photo: Getty.

Driving with trains and tracks 

Motorists and trains usually don’t have to share the road – except when it comes to level crossings. Level crossings are where train tracks cross over a road, and are identified by signs, lights and sometimes yellow crisscross lines on the road and bells or a siren.   

Flashing lights  

When you see the lights flashing red, the rule is clear: stop, do not attempt to cross. You should only proceed across once the lights have stopped flashing. 

Drivers also must obey any other signs present at the crossing, including Stop and Give Way signs. Even if the lights aren’t flashing, you should not attempt to cross if there isn’t enough room for your vehicle on the other side (I.e. due to traffic). Do not wait on the tracks.  

Boom gates 

Some level crossings also have boom gates that lower when a train is approaching to physically prevent vehicles from crossing. After the train has passed, you must wait until these gates have completely lifted before proceeding – you can be fined for crossing while the gates are only half up.  

Driving with buses 

Melbourne alone has around 400 bus routes, with an additional 50 routes across the regions. That equates to more than 4,000 buses across the network, meaning many motorists will come across a bus – if not multiple – every time they hit the road.  

Bus lanes 

Bus lanes exist to help keep these thousands of buses on schedule during periods of heavy traffic and congestion. It can be tempting to drive in bus lanes but there are strict rules about when you can use them.  

Bus lanes can only be entered if you’re making a turn (you should enter or exit the lane within 100 metres), overtaking, avoiding an obstacle or there are bus lane signs indicating you’re allowed to drive in them. Some bus lanes exist 24/7, while others might only be bus lanes during peak times (they will be signposted if this is the case, otherwise presume it’s a full-time bus lane).  

Otherwise bus lanes can only be used by public buses, coaches as well as by cyclists. 

Giving way to buses

You must give way to buses, including when they’re pulling away from a bus stop. It’s illegal to park within 20 metres before, or 10 metres after a bus stop sign too, as this can impede ability of the bus driver to safely drop off and pick up passengers. Any exceptions to this rule will be signposted. 


A route 75 tram travelling down a busy road in Melbourne

The golden rule when sharing the road with trams is to stop when they stop. Photo: Matt Harvey.

Driving with trams in Melbourne

There’s no more ‘Melbourne’ form of public transport than the tram, with the city boasting the world’s largest operational tram network. Given that three quarters of that network is on shared roads, knowing the road rules surrounding trams is a must for anyone driving in Melbourne. 

Stopping for trams 

One of the most important rules when driving around trams is to stop when they stop. This means that whenever a tram stops at a roadside stop, you must stop behind the tram to allow passengers to safely embark and disembark.  

Once the tram doors have closed and no pedestrians are still on the road you may continue past the tram at no more than 10kph. Keep in mind pedestrians can often appear suddenly in an attempt to catch the tram.  

Driving in tram lanes 

You’re allowed to drive on tram tracks, but motorists must avoid tramways and tram lanes, with a few exceptions.  

Tramways are identified by ‘Tram Only’ signs and can only be driven in to avoid obstacles. Often tramways are physically divided from the road using kerbing. 

Tram lanes (which like bus lanes, can exist permanently or only during certain time periods) are likewise marked by ‘Tram Lane’ signs. You can only drive in them to avoid obstacles, or to make a right-hand turn (enter the lane from a maximum of 50 metres before your turn).  

You also must not move into the path of a tram in motion and give way to trams (including where you think you might usually have right of way, such as at roundabouts). 


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