Facts About Massachusetts Bicycle Laws
Cyclists often have questions about Massachusetts bicycle laws, and about their rights and responsibilities. In Massachusetts, the primary law concerning bicycle use is M.G.L. c. 85, § 11B. One of the most important aspects of the law concerns bicycle helmets. Cyclists age 16 and younger must wear helmets in Massachusetts. Breakstone, White & Gluck works to encourage cyclists of all ages to wear helmets through our Project KidSafe campaign.
Through our Project KidSafe campaign, we receive some great questions about bicycle safety, the law and local regulations. Read our answers to some of the most common questions from cyclists:
- What roads can cyclists ride on in Massachusetts?
- Can cyclists ride on the sidewalks in Massachusetts?
- Do cyclists have to stop their bicycles at red lights in Massachusetts?
- Do cyclists have to use hand signals in Massachusetts?
- Can cyclists ride next to each other in Massachusetts?
- Where can cyclists park their bicycles?
- Do cyclists need lights on their bikes in Massachusetts?
- Do cyclists need reflectors on their bikes in Massachusetts?
- What Massachusetts motor vehicle laws should cyclists and drivers know?
- Do cyclists need Massachusetts auto insurance to ride a bicycle?
- What should I do if I am injured while riding my bike in Massachusetts?
What roads can cyclists ride on in Massachusetts?
Almost all of them. Under Massachusetts law, bicyclists “have the right to use all public ways in the commonwealth except limited access or express state highways where signs specifically prohibiting bicycles have been posed.”
In other words, cyclists may use all roads in Massachusetts except those major highways and limited access roads where posted signs prohibit bicycles.
Can cyclists ride on the sidewalks in Massachusetts?
Not usually. Bicycles “may be ridden on sidewalks outside business districts when necessary in the interest of safety, unless otherwise directed by local ordinance.”
In other words, it is only okay to ride on the sidewalks in Massachusetts when it would be unsafe to do otherwise and a bicycle accident could result.
When riding on sidewalks, bicyclists must yield the right of way to pedestrians and give an auditory (loud) signal when passing pedestrians.
The City of Cambridge provides maps of banned sidewalk riding areas. Other communities may as well.
Do I have to stop at red lights in Massachusetts?
Yes. With the right to ride on Massachusetts roads, bicyclists are also bound by all the same rules of the road, with a few minor exceptions. One of these exceptions allows cyclists to pass cars on the right.
However, cyclists do not need to signal ‘continuously’ and they do not need to signal if they need both hands on their handlebars to ride safely and avoid a bike accident. The hand signals poster was developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. You can download a larger copy of the poster here.
Can cyclists ride next to each other in Massachusetts?
Yes. This is one of the rules that changed with the 2009 Bicycle Safety Bill. Under the new law, up to two cyclists can ride next to each other, so long as they stay in a single lane.
However, it is still good practice to shift to a single-file line if cars are getting backed up. Courtesy goes a long way to maintaining good relations between cyclists and motorists.
Where can I park my bicycle in Massachusetts?
Under Massachusetts law, bicycles can be parked anywhere on a sidewalk or road so long as the bicycle does not obstruct the flow of pedestrian or vehicle traffic.
In cities like Boston, recent initiatives have dramatically increased the number of bike racks in and around the city. Here are some resources on bike parking:
Under Massachusetts law, cyclists are required to have a white light facing forward and a red light facing backward from thirty minutes after sunset until thirty minutes before sunrise (the darkest times of day).
Do cyclists need reflectors on their bikes in Massachusetts?
Yes, if you intend to ride after dark. Under Massachusetts law, cyclists must either have reflectors on both pedals facing front and back or reflective material around their ankles facing front and back.
This rule applies to riders from thirty minutes after sunset until thirty minutes before sunrise (the darkest times of day).
We have been writing about M.G.L. c. 85, § 11B. Other Massachusetts laws also address a driver's responsibilities for safe operation near cyclists. These include M.G.L. c. 89, § 2 and M.G.L. c. 90, § 14. All three laws were updated in 2009, when Massachusetts passed new bicycle safety legislation. Drivers can be cited for violating these laws.
M.G.L. c. 89, § 2 defines a driver's responsibilities when passing other vehicles and cyclists in Massachusetts. Drivers cannot overtake bicyclists unless there is enough room to pass safely. If there is not enough room, drivers must wait.
But when drivers are cited for unsafe operation near cyclists, they are often cited under M.G.L. c. 90, § 14. This law establishes a driver's responsibility not to open a door into a cyclist's path. It also states drivers have responsibilities when making turns at intersections. Read our web pages on a driver's responsibilities to check for cyclists at intersections, when making right turns and when making left turns. Right hook and left hook accidents account for a large number of bicycle accidents in Boston.
Do cyclists need Massachusetts auto insurance to ride a bicycle?
That is a good question for cyclists to ask. We offer some insights in our article, "What Every Massachusetts Bicyclist Needs To Know About Car Insurance." The short answer is cyclists are not required to carry special insurance in Massachusetts. But you can strategically purchase additional types and amounts of coverage through your Massachusetts auto insurance policy. If you are injured by a driver who is uninsured or underinsured, you have your own auto insurance policy. This can compensate you for your medical bills and other financial losses.
If you do not own a car, you may be able to purchase coverage through a household policy.
What should I do if I am injured while riding my bike in Massachusetts?
If you are injured in a bicycle accident, the most important thing to do is to obtain immediate medical care. You should then seek legal advice.
You are required to file an accident report with local police after any bicycle accident resulting in personal injury or property damage exceeding $100. The accident report must be filed within 5 days, unless someone is unable due to injury. Finding an attorney to assist you can help make the process much easier. An attorney can also help you report the claim to the auto insurance companies, including the insurer on the vehicle which struck you and your own insurance company.
For help, contact Breakstone, White & Gluck today for a free legal consultation at 800-379-1244 or 617-723-7676 or use our contact form.
About Breakstone, White & Gluck
Breakstone, White & Gluck is committed to bicycling safety in Massachusetts. Since 2013, we have donated 30,000 children's bicycle helmets through our Project KidSafe campaign. We have been proudly recognized as a Silver-Level Bicycle Friendly Business by the American League of Bicyclists for our bike helmet donations and our support of cycling clubs and organizations. Some of the organizations we support: MassBike, Boston Cyclists Union, Northeast Bicycle Club, Charles River Wheelers, Bikes Not Bombs, and the New England Mountain Bike Association.