Personal Injury: Massachusetts Laws Regarding Bicyclist

Every year there are thousands of bicycle accidents in Massachusetts and many involve serious personal injury. Bicycle riding has become a mainstream form of transportation and as more and more people take their cycling to the busy streets of Massachusetts more accidents are bound to occur. For overall safety, it is important to understand the law as it pertains to bicycling in Massachusetts. We’ve provided a summary of Chapter 85, Section 11B of the General Laws of the Commonwealth which details what you need to know if you’re a cyclist.

Overview of MGL Chapter 85, Section 11B
With the exception of highways where signs prohibit bike riding, you are allowed to ride on any public street, road or bikeway. Unless prohibited by local law, riding on sidewalks outside of business districts is allowed. You may pass cars on the right. There is no limit to the number of lights or reflectors you have on your bike. Recognized bicycle associations having permission from representative law enforcement may hold a bike race on any public road or street. You may also establish special race regulations with prior approval. You are subject to all traffic laws and regulations in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Hand signals using either hand to indicate that you are stopping or turning is required unless use of both hands is necessary for safe operation.

Pedestrians have the right of way and an audible signal (not a whistle or siren) must be given upon passing or overtaking them.

Riding two abreast is allowed as long as passing traffic is facilitated by either riding single file or staying in the right hand lane on a multi-lane road.

The operator must ride upon a permanent, regular seat attached to the bicycle. A passenger must ride on regular permanent seat attached to bicycle or to a trailer being towed. A child between age 1 to 4 or weighing less than or equal to 40 pounds must ride in attached baby seat. The child must be able to sit upright and be secured safely in harness or seat belt and feet be protected from contact with spokes. Children less than 1 are not permitted to be carried on bicycle.

Any individual either operating a bicycle or carried as a passenger is required to wear an approved helmet secured to head by straps on any public right-of-way- including bike paths. However, a passenger in an enclosed trailer, adequately held in place and whose head is protected, need not wear a helmet.

Vehicular or pedestrian traffic may not be obstructed when parking a bicycle. Bicycle towing by a moving vehicle is prohibited. Except for properly attached trailers, operators may not tow another vehicle or person. Items being transported by bike must be carried in basket, rack or trailer and at least one hand must be kept on handlebar at all times.

Every bicycle operated on a public way must have a properly working braking system. Handlebars must be at a position so that hands are not above shoulders while gripping them.

During hours of darkness a front white light visible from 500 hundred feet and a rear red light or reflector visible at 600 feet or less when directly in front of lawful lower beams of headlamp on motor vehicle are required. Ankle reflectors must be worn if there are no reflectors on the pedals. Reflectors and reflective material on the bike must be visible from the back and sides.

Violations of any of these laws can be punished by a fine of up to $20 with parents and guardians being responsible for cyclists under the age of 18. A bicycle belonging to anyone under 18 who violates the law can be impounded for up to 15 days.

The operator of a bicycle is required to report any accident involving either personal injury or property damage in excess of one hundred dollars, or both, to the police department in the city or town in which the accident occurred.

Bicycle safety is also the responsibility of motor vehicle operators. Here is what Massachusetts law as covered in MGL Chapter 89, Section 2 and Chapter 90, Section 14.

Before opening their vehicle doors, motorists and passengers must check for passing bicyclists. Opening a vehicle door into the path of any other traffic including that of bicyclists and pedestrians is subject to a fine of up to $100.

When passing, motor vehicle operators must remain at a safe distance to the left of any other vehicle including a bicyclist and must be safely clear of bicyclist before returning to right.

The motorist must pass at a safe distance. When the lane is too narrow to safely pass then the motorist must use another lane to pass or hold back until it is safe to pass.

After passing a bicyclist it is illegal to make an abrupt right turn at intersections and driveways

When turning left the motorist must yield to oncoming bicyclists. The law includes yielding to bicyclists riding to the right of other traffic, for example, on the shoulder. The fact that a bicyclist was riding to the right of traffic is not a legal defense for a motorist causing a crash with a bicyclist.

For more information on current law as it affects the bicyclist or pedestrian and the proposed Vulnerable User legislation please contact us.