Massachusetts Bicycle Laws

Bicyclists in Massachusetts have long faced many dangers, particularly on Boston roads. The streets weren’t originally designed with bicycle traffic in mind, and motorists too often disregard their rights and safety.

In recent years, there has been a shift to promote safer cycling. Efforts to solidify the protection of cyclists culminated in the implementation of the “Bicyclist Safety Bill” in 2009. This measure granted cyclists the right to ride two abreast in a lane and also prohibits drivers from “squeezing” cyclists into narrow lanes or endangering riders with “right-hook” maneuvers.

Boston bicycle attorneys at The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman's BikeAttorney.com support these and other ongoing legislative efforts that include state-mandated side guards on trucks, as well as requiring motorists to give cyclists at least 3 feet of space when passing.

It’s imperative that bicyclists, motorists and pedestrians understand their rights and obligations when sharing the road. Here, we offer a simple, easy-to-read version of Massachusetts bike laws and how they apply to each road user.

Danger to Cyclists

Bicyclists are injured and killed at alarming rates each year in Massachusetts and throughout the country. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports:

  • 743 bicyclists were killed in traffic accidents in 2013;
  • 6 bicyclists died in Massachusetts that year.
  • 48,000 bicyclists were injured in accidents that same year;
  • There was a 19 percent increase in cyclists killed between 2010 and 2013;
  • 68 percent of all cyclists who died in motor vehicle crashes lost their lives in urban areas.

These figures are especially troubling when you understand the majority of these deaths and serious injuries were preventable.

Massachusetts Bicycle Safety Laws

It took a long time for bicycle safety advocates to see the Bicycle Safety Bill become reality. In total, it was eight years and introduction in four legislative sessions before the bill finally passed. It became law Jan. 15, 2009, and is codified in Mass. Gen. Law Ch. 85, Section 11B and in Mass. Gen. Law Ch. 90, Section 14. There are also provisions of Mass. Gen. Law Ch. 89, Section 2 that are applicable.

Under these laws, there are a number of CYCLISTS’ RIGHTS outlined. These include:

  • Permission to ride a bike on any road, street or bikeway that is public, except limited access highways in locations where there are signs that prohibit cyclists.
  • Use of right or left hand to alert drivers or others to turns and stops.
  • Permission to ride on sidewalks outside of local business districts, unless there is a local ordinance that outlaws it. However, in most cases it is safer to be on the road than on the sidewalk.
  • Permission to put as many reflectors and lights on the bicycle as you want.
  • Permission to ride two abreast in a lane of traffic, as long as the cyclists do not impede motor vehicle traffic.

In turn, there are a number of CYCLISTS’ RESPONSIBILITIES for these privileges:

  • Riders have to adhere to traffic safety laws.
  • Riders have to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians and give a clear, audible warning before passing.
  • Riders need to use hand signals when they are going to stop or turn, but they can keep their hands on the handlebars if that is necessary to safely complete a maneuver.
  • If riding two cyclists to a lane, those riders are responsible for facilitating passing traffic. That means if drivers want to pass, riders need to move to single file.
  • Riders need to have a permanent, regular seat that is attached to their bicycle.
  • One hand has to be on the handlebars throughout the ride.
  • Riders or bike passengers 16 and younger have to wear a federally-approved helmet.
  • Headlights and taillights have to be on the bike if riding at dark. These have to be visible in motor vehicle low beams at up to 600 feet.
  • If there are no reflectors on the pedals, night riders need to wear reflectors on at least one ankle.
  • Brakes have to functional and allow cyclist to come to a complete stop from 15 mph within 30 feet.

There are also a number of provisions that WHAT CYCLISTS CAN’T DO:

  • Have a passenger on the bike anywhere except on a regular seat that is attached permanently to the bicycle or to a trailer that is being towed by the bicycle.
  • Carry anything on the bicycle unless it’s in a rack, trailer or basket that was designed specifically for that reason.
  • Modify the handlebars to be higher than one’s shoulders or alter the bicycle fork for the purpose of extending it.
  • Use a whistle or siren to alert pedestrians of your presence.
  • Park the bike in the street, sidewalk or bike way where it might block the path of others.

Cyclists who violate these rules face fines and impoundment of their bicycle.

In addition to these provisions, there are a number of RULES FOR MOTORISTS. These include:

  • Drivers and passengers have to look for bicyclists who may be passing before swinging open a vehicle door. A motorist or passenger who “doors” a bicyclist by opening a vehicle door in front of other traffic (including bicyclists) can be fined up to $100.
  • Motorists need to give cyclists room. Although the exact amount isn’t specified, they need to stay at a “safe distance” when passing a cyclist on the left. Further, drivers can’t merge back into the right lane until they have safely cleared the cyclist.
  • If a lane is too tight to complete the pass safely, the driver has to wait until it is safe.
  • Sudden right turns (“right hooks”) are prohibited at intersections and driveways after passing a cyclist.
  • Drivers are required to yield to oncoming bicyclists when turning left – including when the cyclist is riding to the right of other traffic/ on the shoulder.

If you are a bicyclist who has been injured by a driver who failed to adhere to these rules, you may be entitled to pursue damages for medical bills, lost wages and more. Keep in mind that even if you are partially at-fault, you may still collect damages, although your award may be reduced by your share of responsibility for what happened.

Contact the Boston Bicycle Accident Lawyers at The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman's BikeAttorney.com.