Good News for Bicyclists in Massachusetts: Important Changes in Massachusetts Statutes Favor Cyclists - Drivers Must use Greater Care
By David White
After several years of legislative wrangling, the new "Act Relative to Bicycle Safety" has finally been enacted into law. The bill, Senate No. 2573, took several steps to define the obligations of motorist which will increase the safety of bicyclists on the roads. It will also give cyclist many new rights when the are injured by careless or negligent drivers.
The new law changes several existing sections of the law to afford new protections to cyclists. Among the changes:
Motorists and passengers cannot open car doors if it will interfere with bicycle or pedestrian traffic; it is now illegal to "door" a bicyclist
Motorists cannot overtake bicyclists unless there is enough room to pass safely; if the car needs to wait because the road is narrow, it is illegal to pass the bicyclist
Motorists cannot move back in front of cyclists after passing unless there is sufficient room; it is illegal to cut of bicyclists after passing
Motorists cannot pass bicycles and then take quick right turns; many drivers do not realize that cutting in front of bicycles traveling in the same direction presents extreme hazards because they are cutting the cyclists off
Drivers must yield to cyclists who may be traveling to the right of on-coming traffic. It is perfectly legal for bicycles to pass stopped or slow traffic on the right, near the edge of the road; motorists must yield to these bicycle riders when turning left
Drivers must also yield to bicycles which are traveling on the right side of the road, even if the bicycle is overtaking the car or truck; simply put, bicycles have the right of way when passing on the right
The new law made several other changes in the bicycle laws. Previously, bicycle riders were required to travel single file, unless passing each other. This law created enforcement issues in towns with lots of bicycle traffic, such as Weston, Lexington, and surrounding areas. Now bicyclists can travel two abreast legally, so long as they are on the right side of the road, and, it is is a two lane road, both in the right lane.
Other changes cleaned up the previous bicycle laws. Helmets are required to confirm on with Consumer Product Safety Commission standards (as opposed to ANSI standards); bicycle registration laws, which were not being enforced anyway, have been repealed; and signaling requirements have been relaxed. Though cyclists are still required to signal their turns, if they need both hands to steer and brake, they are permitted to omit the signals during that time.
As bicycle use increases due to environmental awareness, the desire for fitness, and the costs of fuel, more bicycle accidents have been occurring. The layout of many of the roads in Massachusetts contributes to cycling hazards, but the biggest problem remains that drivers are simply often not conscious of sharing the road with bicycles.
We urge all cyclists to use the greatest care when riding, including using appropriate helmets and reflective gear, and being aware of what motorists may or may not be doing. And we urge all motorists to use extra caution around cyclists, being sure to slow down, to pass safely, and to turn with the greatest care.
The sad fact is, or course, that bicycle accidents can be very serious. If you have been injured in an accident while riding your bicycle, please contact us to learn how to protect your rights and how to get compensated for your medical bills, lost wages, and your injuries.
For more information, please call us, toll free, at 800-379-1244, or use the contact form to send us an email.
Click here for the text of Chapter 525 of the Acts of 2008.