Massachusetts Traffic Laws as they apply to bicyclists

Draft document prepared by John S. Allen February 10, 1997

Where bicyclists may ride

Bicyclists may ride on "all public ways in the commonwealth except limited access and express state highways where signs specifically prohibiting bicycles have been posted." [See MGL Ch. 85, §11B, 720 CMR 9.08 (2b), 720 CMR 9.01 (31, 32).] Bicyclists may also ride on designated bicycle paths [MGL Ch. 90E § 1] and on sidewalks outside business districts except where prohibited by local ordinance [MGL Ch. 85, §11B]. These rules do not require a bicyclist to use a bicycle path or sidewalk that parallels a roadway. Regulations and ordinances that apply to bicycling off-road are too varied to summarize here.

Lane use

Motorists are generally excluded from designated bicycle lanes [MGL Ch. 90E § 14], but must prepare a right turn "as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway" [MGL Ch. 90 § 14] -- even in a designated bicycle lane, parking lane, bus lane etc. Bicyclists must yield to the right to allow other vehicle operators to overtake when safe, [720 CMR 9.06 (5, 6), MGL Ch. 89 § 2] and ride in the right lane except to overtake, but must move to the center to prepare a left turn. [See MGL Ch. 85, §11B, MGL Ch. 90 § 14, 720 CMR 9.01 (26, 28). 720 CMR 9.06 (2).]

Rules of the road

The bicycle is defined as a vehicle [MGL Ch. 85, §11B, 720 CMR 9.01 (26, 28)] and so the same traffic rules apply between motorists, between bicyclists, and as each interacts with the other. Motorists, however, must take special care in approaching and passing bicyclists [MGL Ch. 90 § 14]. There are a few special rules for bicyclists: [MGL Ch. 85, §11B] A bicyclist may signal stops and turns with either hand; A bicyclist may overtake on the right; bicyclists shall ride single file except when passing. Also, a bicyclist riding on a sidewalk must yield right of way to pedestrians, and a bicyclist shall give an audible warning when necessary, in particular to alert pedestrians. The voice may be used, but a siren or whistle is prohibited.

Competitive bicycle races may be held on public ways, if sponsored by or in cooperation with recognized bicycle organizations and with the approval of the appropriate police department or departments. Special regulations for racing and training may be established by agreement of these parties.

Special equipment requirements

The following bicycle equipment is required by law [MGL Ch. 85, §11B]:

Registration of bicycles; citations and penalties

Registration is at the discretion of cities and towns [MGL Ch. 85 § 11A]. If a city or town has accepted the provisions of that section, registration is compulsory. Cities and towns are required to provide a noncriminal ticketing procedure for violations of state laws and of their own rules, regulations and ordinances regulating the registration, equipment and operation of bicycles [MGL Ch. 85 § 11C]. Bicycle registration violations are subject to a penalty of one dollar. Violations of traffic law are subject to a penalty not to exceed twenty dollars, to impoundment of a bicycle whose operator is under the age of 18, and to suspension of bicycle registration. An offender who refuses to state his/her name and address or who states a false name and address, is subject to a penalty of not less than 20 and not more than 50 dollars.

Massachusetts Traffic Laws as they apply to pedestrians

Pedestrians (including bicyclists walking their bicycles and persons in or on "other human-powered conveyances," (for example inline skates) [MGL Ch. 90 § 18A] shall obey the directions of police officers, and shall shall cross where there is a police officer directing traffic, a traffic control signal or a marked crosswalk within 300 feet; this also applies to persons alighting from vehicles. When crossing at other places, they shall yield to motor vehicles [MGL Ch. 89 § 11, 720 CMR 9.09].

At a traffic signal, a pedestrian shall cross only on the proper pedestrian signal indication or green indication. [720 CMR 9.09 (1,2)] Pedestrians shall attempt to use the right half of crosswalks, must use sidewalks, pedestrian tunnels and overpasses when provided, shall walk along the left shoulder of an undivided highway and the right shoulder of a divided highway [720 CMR 9.09 (4)]. These are regulations for state highways. Local ordinances may differ.

Vehicle operators (including bicyclists) are required to yield to pedestrians legally crossing within a marked crosswalk [MGL Ch. 89 § 11, MGL Ch. 89 § 8, 720 CMR 9.06 (10, 27)], must stop and yield to pedestrians when emerging from an alley or private driveway [720 CMR 9.06 (20)], and must slow down and take special care when approaching a pedestrian on the roadway. [MGL Ch. 90 § 14, MGL Ch. 90 § 14A] Local ordinances may differ.