Understanding Bike Laws in Massachusetts

Massachusetts is a beautiful place to ride a bicycle. Whether you take a scenic route on the weekends or make your daily commute on one, you need to know what you are allowed to do on a bike in our state to avoid a bike accident. Make riding a fantastic experience every day with this simple outline of bicycle laws that govern cyclists:

Where You Can Ride

You can ride on bicycle paths and public roads and streets, but you cannot ride in any limited access areas or on expressways that post bicycle prohibiting signs. You can ride on a sidewalk in areas that are not considered business districts unless a local ordinance is in place.

You can take your bike on the MBTA in most places, which is a helpful way to get just about anywhere. Do not take it on the Green Line or the Mattapan Trolley, and look at the schedule for other times that the transportation authority prohibits it due to congestion.

The Rules of the Road: Bicyclist Responsibilities

As a cyclist on the road, you must obey all normal traffic laws. Specifically, this means:

  • Signaling. You can use hand signals for traffic behind you, but you must signal each stop and turn. Obey the same traffic signals as vehicles – i.e., stop at red lights and stop signs.
  • Pedestrians. Pedestrians have the right of way, and if you pass someone, you must give them an auditory signal. Do not use sirens or whistles, as these can startle pedestrians rather than warning them.
  • Side-by-side riding. Go ahead and ride alongside your buddy when traffic allows.
    However, each bike is responsible for moving as far to the right as possible to allow for faster traffic to pass. Use the lane farthest to the right on any multi-lane road.
  • Right of way. If you are going straight across a roadway, you have the right of way over a vehicle turning left. Make eye contact with the driver to ensure your own safety.

Bicycle Specific Laws

When you ride a bike, it must be properly maintained according to safety laws. These are the regulations governing how you ride, helmet use, and similar cyclist responsibilities:

  • Handlebars. Always keep one hand on your handlebars while the bike is moving.
  • Helmets. Riders who are 16 years old or younger must wear a safety standard compliant helmet, unless they ride in a trailer or other safety device that would protect their heads. We highly recommend all riders wear helmets to reduce the risk of catastrophic injury after an accident.
  • Reflectors and lights. You can put as many reflectors and lights on your bike as you want, but you have to have at least one white headlight and a red taillight or reflector if you ride at night. Wear ankle reflectors if you do not have pedal reflectors when you go out after dark. Follow reflector and light standards from 30 minutes after sunset to 30 minutes before sunrise.
  • Carrying children and luggage. Use appropriate child seats on bicycles, and never ride with children under the age of one in an attached baby seat; they must ride in an age appropriate trailer. Always secure bags and other items to a suitable basket or rack.

Many of these laws are common sense, but you may also need to follow local rules where you ride. Check with area law enforcement before riding somewhere new. If you are unsure of your responsibilities, our team at Sweeney Merrigan Law LLP is here to answer any questions you have about biking laws and accidents. Happy cycling!

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