The law, safety and left turning vehicles

March 16th, 2017

BQ is often asked for clarification on legal issues confronting members from incidents or sites of confusion. One is regarding motor vehicles turning left across a rider’s path, sometimes referred to as a ‘left hook’ (to use boxing parlance).

A bike can go to the front of a queue at traffic lights.

BQ believes that staying safe is your primary concern, so each rider needs to ride in a way that is both legal and safe. But there are some areas of the law which are very confusing and can be ‘line-ball’ in terms of what is right and/or safe! In these instances, people should think very seriously about their own safety before making that manoeuvre.

One such case is overtaking stationary motor vehicles via the gap between those vehicles and the kerb. Sometimes this may be in a bike lane, but often it is just an unoccupied part of the lane.

Firstly, it is important to remember overtaking at any time involves a higher degree of risk. So temper your desire to overtake with safety considerations – including the sudden opening of passenger-side doors!

Legally, a bicycle is allowed to overtake stationary or queued motor vehicles if it is safe to do so. The exception to this is when the vehicle is indicating AND in the act of turning left. Now this is the grey area of the law. What does the ACT of turning mean? The advice we’ve received is the act of turning means the vehicle is physically moving its alignment to turn left and has (read ‘should have’) checked it is safe to do so. This includes taking care of a bicycle that may be just in front or even beside them.

This is a classic left-hook situation, as the motorist may have missed seeing the bicycle rider on their left and can later contest the exact position of the bicycle before the act of turning left commenced. If the bicycle was behind the motor-vehicle, the bicycle rider needs to yield, even if they are travelling faster than the motor-vehicle and about to overtake it.

Don’t overtake on the left of a car turning left.

This instance often arises on busy commuter routes where motor vehicles are queued but bicycles are enjoying a free passage up the left side of them. That is fine if done safely, but when approaching an intersection, or possibly any driveway, expect the possibility of a driver indicating (hopefully!) and turning left immediately in front of them. It happens – far too much!

Once again, bike rider speed is critical – particularly the difference in speed between the rider and motorist. If the motorist is near stationary or dawdling at 10km/h, charging past on the left at 30km/h is a risky manoeuvre. We would recommend not travelling beyond 10km/h faster than the motor vehicle to your right – to give you some stopping opportunity if a door suddenly flies open or a driver turns left unexpectedly, perhaps without indicating.

BQ has been contacted multiple times by drivers who have experienced attempting to turn left but have politely or cautiously waited for bike riders travelling at speed on their left who just keep coming – which causes frustration for drivers behind who are blocked, annoyed and may be prone to rash behaviour.

Of course we think the drivers have to be responsible and careful since their lives are not in peril in these circumstances. But, the high degree of risk to the rider who is overtaking on the left requires a heap of caution by them (us!) too.

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