Do you know your rights and responsibilities when you’re bicycling in Massachusetts? We’ve gathered some helpful information about Massachusetts bicycle laws; especially as it relates to bicycle equipment, riding rules, safety standards, bicycle races, violations, and penalties.
If you’d like to review bicycle laws in Massachusetts in more detail, you may want to read the laws pertaining to bicyclists and bicycling in Massachusetts. General Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Chapter 85, Section 11B. We’ve made those available below.
Massachusetts Bicycle Rights
- You are allowed to ride your bicycle on any public road, street, or bikeway in the Commonwealth, except limited access or express state highways where signs specifically prohibiting bikes have been posted.
- You are allowed to ride your bicycle on sidewalks outside business districts; unless local laws prohibit sidewalk riding.
- You may use either hand to signal stops and turns.
- You may pass cars on the right.
- If you carry children or other passengers inside an enclosed trailer or other device that will adequately restrain them and protect their heads in a crash, they do not need to wear helmets.
- You may hold a bicycle race on any public road or street in the Commonwealth, if you do so in cooperation with a recognized bicycle organization, and if you get approval from the appropriate police department before the race is held.
- You may establish special bike regulations for races by agreement between your bicycle organization and the police.
- You may have as many lights and reflectors on your bike as you wish.
Massachusetts Bicyclist Responsibilities
- You must obey all traffic laws and regulations of the Commonwealth.
- You must use hand signals to let people know you plan stop or turn, though this is not required if taking a hand off the handlebars would endanger the bike rider.
- You must give pedestrians the right of way.
- You must give pedestrians an audible signal before overtaking or passing them.
- You may ride two abreast (side by side); but must facilitate passing traffic. This means riding single file when faster traffic needs to pass, or staying in the right-most lane on a multi-lane road.
- You must ride astride a regular, permanent seat that is attached to your bicycle.
- You must keep one hand on your handlebars at all times.
- If you are 16 years old or younger, you must wear a helmet that meets U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission requirements on any bike, anywhere, at all times. The helmet must fit your head and the chin strap must be fastened.
- You must use a white headlight and red taillight or rear reflector if you are riding anytime from 1/2 hour after sunset until 1/2 hour before sunrise.
- At night, you must wear ankle reflectors if there are no reflectors on your pedals.
- You must notify the police of any accident involving personal injury or property damage over $100.
Things Massachusetts Bicyclists Cannot Do
- You may not carry a passenger anywhere on your bike except on a regular seat permanently attached to the bike, or to a trailer towed by the bike.
- You may not carry any child between the ages of 1 to 4, or weighing 40 pounds or less, anywhere on a single-passenger bike except in a baby seat attached to the bike. The child must be able to sit upright in the seat and must be held in the seat by a harness or seat belt. Their hands and feet must be out of reach of the wheel spokes.
- You may not carry any child under the age of 1 on your bike, even in a baby seat; this does not preclude carrying them in a trailer.
- You may not use a siren or whistle on your bike to warn pedestrians.
- You may not park your bike on a street, road, bikeway or sidewalk where it will be in other people’s way.
- You may not carry anything on your bike unless it is in a basket, rack, bag, or trailer designed for the purpose.
- You may not modify your bike so that your hands are higher than your shoulders when gripping the handlebars.
- You may not alter the fork of your bike to extend it.
- Your bike must have a permanent, regular seat attached to it.
- Your brakes must be good enough to bring you to a stop, from a speed of 15 miles an hour, within 30 feet of braking. This distance assumes a dry, clean, hard, level surface.
- At night, your headlight must emit a white light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet. A generator-powered lamp that shines only when the bike is moving is okay.
- At night, your taillight must be red and must be visible from a distance of at least 600 feet.
- At night, your reflectors must be visible in the low beams of a car’s headlights from a distance of at least 600 feet. Reflectors and reflective material on your 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. Parents and guardians are responsible for cyclists under the age of 18. The bicycle of anyone under 18 who violates the law can be impounded by the police or town selectmen for up to 15 days.
Massachusetts Motorist Responsibilities (see MGL Chapter 89, Section 2 and Chapter 90, Section 14)
- Motorists and their passengers must check for passing bicyclists before opening their door. Motorists and their passengers can be ticketed and fined up to $100 for opening car or truck doors into the path of any other traffic, including bicycles and pedestrians.
- Motorists must stay a safe distance to the left of a bicyclist (or any other vehicle) when passing. Motorists are also prohibited from returning to the right until safely clear of the bicyclist.
- Motorists must pass at a safe distance. If the lane is too narrow to pass safely, the motorist must use another lane to pass, or, if that is also unsafe, the motorist must wait until it is safe to pass.
- Motorists are prohibited from making abrupt right turns (“right hooks”) at intersections and driveways after passing a cyclist.
- Motorists must yield to oncoming bicyclists when making left turns. The law expressly includes yielding to bicyclists riding to the right of other traffic (e.g., on the shoulder), where they are legally permitted but may be more difficult for motorists to see.
- Motorists may not use a hand-held mobile device while driving, or while stopped in a travel lane (including bike lanes).
- Motorists may not use the fact that bicyclists were riding to the right of traffic as a legal defense for causing a crash with a bicyclist.
Massachusetts Bicycle Laws
MGL c.85 § 11B The Primary Bike Law that regulates where and how bicycles can be ridden in the Commonwealth including required safety equipment, riding in traffic and riding on sidewalks.
MGL c.6 § 116E Training for law enforcement in bicycle safety enforcement
MGL c.82, §§ 35-36 Bike paths
MGL c.85 § 11D Stores selling or renting bikes must display sign about helmet law. Renters must make helmets available.
MGL c.89 § 2 Rules for car passing bicycle
MGL c.90 § 1B-1E Motorized bicycles (including ebikes): operating regulations, complying with federal safety standards, and registration sticker.
Massachusetts Bicycling Question & Answers
What roads can cyclists ride on in Massachusetts?
Under Massachusetts law (see above), 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 posted.”
In other words, cyclists may use all roads in Massachusetts except those major highways and limited-access roads where posted signs prohibit bicycles.
Can Bicyclists ride on the sidewalks in Massachusetts?
Typically, no. 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 allowable to ride on the sidewalks in Massachusetts when it would be unsafe to do otherwise and a bicycle accident could result. This obviously requires some discretion on the cyclist’s part.
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. It’s your responsibility to know these laws.
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.
Do I have to use hand signals in Massachusetts?
Yes, you must use hand signals. Under Massachusetts law, bicyclists must use hand signals to show their intention to turn.
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.
Can cyclists ride next to each other in Massachusetts?
Yes, they may. 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 ride in a single-file line where appropriate.
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.
Do cyclists need to use bike lights and reflectors in Massachusetts?
Yes, if you intend to ride your bicycle after dark. Under Massachusetts law, cyclists must display a white light on the front of their bicycle, along with a red taillight or a rear reflector on the back. Cyclists must also display a reflector on each pedal or wear ankle reflectors. These requirements apply from 30 minutes after sunset until 30 minutes before sunrise. You can learn more about the best bicycle lights here.
What Massachusetts motor vehicle laws should cyclists and drivers know?
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 details 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.
M.G.L. c. 90, § 14 establishes a driver’s responsibilities when turning. The law states, “No person operating a vehicle that overtakes and passes a bicyclist proceeding in the same direction shall make a right turn at an intersection or driveway unless the turn can be made at a safe distance from the bicyclist at a speed that is reasonable and proper.” The law further states when making a left turn, drivers shall yield the right of way to any vehicle (including a bicycle) approaching from the opposite direction.
M.G.L. c. 90, § 14 also establishes a driver’s responsibility not to open a door into a cyclist’s path. To learn more, read our website pages on drivers making illegal right turns and illegal left turns and causing injuries to cyclists.
Do cyclists need Massachusetts auto insurance to ride a bicycle?
The short answer is cyclists are not required to carry special insurance in Massachusetts. But you can 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 might 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.
Bicycles are Responsible for Knowing the Law
The above laws are only some of the bicycle laws that riders must follow. It is a rider’s responsibility to know, understand, and obey the bicycle and traffic laws. If a bicyclist breaks the law, it could impact the rider’s ability to recover full compensation for damages caused by a bicycle accident.
If a rider is partially at fault for the cause of a bicycle accident, the state’s contributory negligence law applies. A bicyclist is not barred from receiving compensation for damages if the rider is partially at fault for the accident, unless the fault is more than 50 percent.