By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.
Bus lanes are scattered right across Australia’s roads, and while it’s pretty tempting to hop into one and drive on your merry way past hundreds of people sitting in traffic, getting into one at the wrong time can leave you out of pocket by hundreds of dollars.
In NSW, if you get caught driving in a bus lane, even for a mistaken few seconds, you can be hit with a hefty fine and demerit point.
To make matters worse, it’ll also slap you with a demerit point.
While more bus lanes are being provided on Sydney roads to better the reliability and efficiency of bus services, with such severe penalties for other motorists, many drivers are now getting confused about when you can or can’t get into one.
In fact, many drivers are terrified to cross into bus lanes too early, and often in turn, this causes traffic problems.
Given motorists need to be aware of the rules around when they can and cannot move into a bus lane safely and legally, we thought we’d round up these for you.
So, read on for your guide on correctly driving in bus lanes in NSW.
The Two Types of Bus Lanes in NSW
The Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) advises that in NSW, there are two types of lanes provided for buses: Bus Only lanes, and Bus Lanes (B Lanes).
Bus Only Lanes are for the exclusive use of registered buses and coaches. They are either sign-posted or marked as Bus Only Lanes and no other vehicles are allowed to travel or stop in them – the only exception being authorised special purpose vehicles.
You can tell a Bus Only Lane by the continuous white line that separates it from a general traffic lane.
At intersections where Bus Only Lanes are integrated, the lane displays a “B” on the traffic lights. This gives buses priority over other traffic.
Interestingly, when it comes to Bus Lanes, the rules are a bit more tolerant.
While Bus Lanes are provided primarily for buses, they can also be used by bicycles, taxis, hire cars (but not rental cars), motorcycles and emergency vehicles.
Special purpose vehicles, and vehicles also operated by or under the direction of RMS, are also allowed to drive in Bus Lanes.
As for other vehicles and general traffic, travel is allowed in Bus Lanes. However, this can only be up to 100 metres in the lane if they are turning into or out of a street (left or right), or are entering or leaving a property adjacent to the bus lane.
You are also permitted to drive for up to 100 metres in a bus lane if you are passing another car that has stopped to turn right, or to avoid an obstruction.
So Why the Confusion Around Bus Lanes?
Earlier this year in April, to coincide with Road Rules Awareness Week, the Centre for Road Safety executive director, Bernard Carlon, addressed the problems around bus lanes and clarified motorists’ confusion on using them.
“We do find that, and I’ve had a lot of feedback from bus drivers, that people feel like they are not able to get into the bus lane even though they may be turning left,” Mr Carlon said.
“You can travel in a bus lane for up to 100 metres before turning left.
“What we’re finding is people are misunderstanding this rule, and they don’t move over early enough in order to make it safe, and they’re cutting in front of buses or turning from that middle lane and cutting across in order to turn left.”
Typically, bus lanes operate from 6am to 10am and from 3pm to 8am from Monday to Friday.
There are some though, especially in Sydney, that run 24 hours.
Bus Lane Cameras – How Do They Work?
To help reduce the illegal use of bus lanes, many make use of cameras.
A bus lane camera zone consists of two digital cameras that are installed beside a bus lane and mounted more than 100 metres apart.
The camera can detect the number plate of any vehicle using these lanes.
If both cameras distinguish the same number plate within an expected time period, and the vehicle is not authorised to be in the lane, a potential infringement is generated.
The cameras function by taking two photos each. The first is a wide-angle shot to put the situation in context. The other is of the vehicle’s number plate.
Images of exempt vehicles such as buses, taxis and motorcycles are removed during the process.
If you are caught driving illegally in a bus lane by the cameras you will receive an infringement notice.
If an unauthorised vehicle travels in a bus lane camera zone for longer than the allowed distance of up to 100 metres, details of the vehicle will be recorded.
The Law on Driving in Bus Lanes in NSW
In NSW, the law on driving in bus lanes is outlined in rule 154 Road Rules 2014 (NSW).
Driving in a bus lane in NSW is generally prohibited and attracts an on-the-spot fine of $344 with 1 demerit point.
Where upon receiving a penalty notice for this offence, you court elect- upon appearing in court, you may either plead ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’.
If you plead guilty or are found guilty after a hearing, the Magistrate has a discretion to impose a maximum $2,200 fine as a penalty.
However, the Magistrate also has a discretion to impose no further punishment without demerit point(s) and without a fine if you’re able to convince the Court to impose a non-conviction penalty as a sentence (commonly known as a section 10 non-conviction sentence).
When Can you Drive in a Bus Lane in NSW?
You may drive in a bus lane in any of the following circumstances under rule 158 Road Rules 2014 (NSW):
- If it’s necessary for you to enter or leave the road; or
- If it’s necessary for you to enter a marked lane from the side of the road; or
- It it’s necessary to enter a part of the road of one kind from a part of the road of another kind (i.e. moving from or to a service road, the shoulder of the road or an emergency stopping lane); or
- If it’s necessary to overtake a vehicle that’s turning right or making a U-turn from the centre of the road and is giving a right change of direction signal.
However, in each of the above scenarios, the driver is permitted to drive in the bus lane for up to the permitted distance, being 100 metres (but, 50 metres for a bicycle lane or tram lane).
It is also permitted for a driver to drive in a bus lane if any one of the following scenarios apply:
- It’s necessary to drive in the lane to avoid obstruction; or
- The driver is driving a taxi or motor bike; or
- The driver is a riding a bicycle; or
- A traffic sign provides information relevant to the lane, indicating that drivers may drive in the lane; or
- The vehicle is being operated by or at the direction of the Authority for the purpose o conducting road and traffic survey; or
- The driver is driving a police vehicle, ambulance or fire brigade vehicle while returning to base after proceeding to the scene of an accident or other emergency; or
- The driver is driving a motor breakdown service vehicle in response to an urgent or priority call; or
- The driver is a special purpose vehicle; or
- The driver is driving a hire vehicle to which is affixed a HC number-plate issued by the Authority in a transit lane or bus lane (other than a bus only lane) while the vehicle is being used for the purpose of providing a passenger service (this applies prior to 30 June 2020).
Other defence to a charge of driving in a bus lane in NSW include:
- Driving in the bus lane if it is necessary to drive into the bus lane to stop at a place in the lane;
- If the driver is permitted to stop at that place under the road rules or another law of this jurisdiction; or
- The driver stops in the bus lane to avoid collision and stops there for a period no longer than necessary to avoid that collision; or
- The driver’s vehicle is disabled, and he/she needs to stop for a period no longer than necessary in order for the vehicle to be moved safely to a place the driver is permitted to park the vehicle legally; or
- The driver stops at particular area or way in order to deal with a medical or other emergency, or to assist a disabled vehicle, where the driver stops for a period no longer than is necessary in the circumstances; or
- The driver stops at a particular area or way due to the condition of the driver, passenger or driver’s vehicle which makes it necessary to stop in the interest of safety, and the driver stops for a period no longer than is necessary in the circumstances.
Have a question?
Call our friendly team at CDLA for a free consultation.
Our traffic lawyers in Sydney specialise in traffic law.
Remember – many bus lanes have cameras to catch offenders, so drive carefully!