Rules for bicycles and cars to share the road

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A cyclist gets out for some late afternoon exercise on Westford Street. (Photo by Sarah Hart)

The following is a selection of bicycle and motorist laws adapted from the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition (Massbike.org)

Cyclist rights

• You may ride your bicycle on any public road, street, or bikeway in the Commonwealth, except where signs specifically prohibiting bikes have been posted.

• You may ride on sidewalks outside business districts, unless local laws prohibit sidewalk riding.

• You may pass cars on the right.

• You may have as many lights and reflectors on your bike as you wish.

Cyclist 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. You can use either hand. 

• 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, but must facilitate passing traffic. This means riding single file when faster traffic wants to pass, or staying in the right-most lane on a multi-lane road.

• If you are 16 years old or younger, you must wear a helmet.

• 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.

• Your bike must be equipped with appropriate lights, brakes, seat etc. (See massbike.org for more details). 

Cyclist may not

• 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 carry a child under the age of one in a baby seat. Children between the ages of one and four, or weighing 40 pounds or less must be in a baby seat attached to the bike or in a trailer. 

Penalties

• 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.

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 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.

For exact requirements, please read the complete text of the laws pertaining to bicyclists and bicycling in Massachusetts. General Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Chapter 85, Section 11B.