Living in Australia

Bike Laws in Australia: Helmets & Footpaths

They say there’s nothing easier than riding a bike, and that once you learn, you never forget. All that sounds lovely and simple but when it comes to the law and safety, there’s quite a bit to know if you’re going to ride a bike in Australia. You can’t just get on and get pedalling and if you break the laws, you could pay a hefty fine.

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In some countries, riding a bike is more common than driving a car. As a result, the infrastructure is designed around bicycles and motorists and pedestrians pay respect to cyclists. It’s a little different in Australia and we have a long way to go before cyclists will be embraced on the roads. If you intend to be a cyclist, you’ll need to find out more about bicycle laws in Australia. This article will help you.

The benefits and the downsides of cycling

There’s no doubt that riding a bike is healthier than riding a car. You get your heart pumping, your legs and arms working and you’re out in the fresh air and sunshine. Our increasingly sedentary lifestyle means we choose to jump in the car even to go to the local shops. Hopping on your bike and going for a pedal is fun, active and enjoyable.

As for the not-so-good aspects, well Australia has a long way to go before the cycling culture is as positive as it is in other countries. Motorists continue to berate cyclists for ‘taking up the road’ and for behaving recklessly. It’s debatable as to which side is the more reckless but whatever the case, it’s important to be extra vigilant when riding on city streets in Australia. Also, the weather is sometimes unkind to cyclists. It can be too hot, too windy or the sun can beat down and cause exhaustion.

Riding a bike is cheaper than owning and driving a car and this is a really big drawcard for young people. Students love to get around uni campuses on their bikes because they’re more suited to the layout and parking is a breeze … and much cheaper!

What’s the story with bicycle helmets?

Australia was actually the first country in the world to make it mandatory to wear a bicycle helmet. After all, the laws are in place to protect people from physical injury, or worse. According to Bicycle Queensland: “Wearing a helmet reduces all head injuries in the event of an accident by about 69%, and serious head injuries by about 75%, including skull fractures and inter-cranial injury and bleeding in the brain.” Since the 1990s, it’s been mandatory to wear a helmet when riding a bike.

Bicycle helmet laws in Australia

It is compulsory for all ages of riders to wear a bicycle helmet in all states and the Australian Capital Territory. In the Northern Territory, it’s compulsory on roads but for riders aged 17 or older, it’s not compulsory on footpaths or cycling paths. In Queensland, you don’t need to wear a helmet if you have a doctor’s certificate saying that you can’t wear one for medical reasons, but you have to carry the certificate with you when riding. You can also be exempt if you are a member of a religious group and wear headdress that makes it impractical to wear a helmet.

How do bicycle helmets protect cyclists?

In a nutshell, a bike helmet protects your brain in the event of a collision. It’s a plastic shell lined with foam on the inside. The foam absorbs the force of the impact on your head and that protects your brain. It’s important when you buy a bike helmet to always have it properly fitted. Buy yours from a specialist cycling shop where the staff can ensure you have the right size and shape for your head. They will show you how to adjust the straps for the best fit, for comfort and safety.

Penalties for riding a bike without a helmet

The laws and penalties differ slightly across Australia’s individual states and territories, but you can expect to pay anywhere between $100 and $300 (depending on the state) for not wearing a bike helmet if you are fined by police.

Are you allowed to ride a bike on the footpath?

It can sometimes be daunting to ride a bicycle on the road! Depending on traffic, weather conditions, the time of day, darkness at night and inexperience on the bike, it can feel safer to ride on the footpath. The problem is, motorists don’t want cyclists on the roads and pedestrians don’t want them on the footpaths.

  • Victoria, NSW and WA – Cyclists under 12 can ride on the footpath and an accompanying, supervising adult rider can ride on the footpath with them. No other riders are allowed to ride their bikes on footpaths.
  • Queensland, Tasmania, SA, NT and ACT – Riders of any age are allowed to ride on the footpath.

Penalties for riding a bike on the footpath

Where it’s illegal to do so, riding a bike on the footpath can be expensive! It can also be confusing. Even where you can ride your bike on the footpath, you can get into trouble for:

  • riding on the pedestrian side of a separated footpath, and
  • riding not on the left of a footpath or shared path.

Bicycle laws by state

Click on the following links to find out what the laws are for cycling in the state you’ll be visiting or staying in.

If you are a cyclist, you’re doing a wonderful thing for the environment, your health and fitness and the traffic congestion on our roads. That said, it’s important that you ensure you ride safely, not just for your own benefit but for those around you as well.

Respect the laws, don’t take unnecessary chances, wear a helmet and avoid riding on the footpath wherever it is illegal. And don’t forget to make sure your bike is always in good condition so that there are no nasty surprises when you’re out and about.


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