Bicyclists’ Rules of the Road

bicycle rider cycling in trafficBicycle usage has increased: to commute, for exercise, or just for fun. Everyone sharing the road must focus on safety. But, do you know your rights and responsibilities on the road?

Bicyclists have a legal right to use all public roads in the state of Massachusetts except limited access or express state highways where signs specifically prohibiting bicycles have been posted. Like motorists, cyclists also are required to know and obey traffic laws and regulations.

Most public ways, including urban streets, country lanes, main roads, secondary roads, and suburban or rural roads, are meant to be shared by all of us. “Us” includes pedestrians, persons riding on bicycles or motorcycles, persons riding in passenger vehicles or buses, and persons operating commercial motor vehicles or trailers, or combinations of those vehicles.1

Bicycle safety laws have been updated in recent years to place more responsibility on bicyclists, motorists, and on renters of bicycles while giving police officers more training in bicycle safety and traffic enforcement.

One of the first responsibilities of cyclists is to be properly equipped, when equipping your bicycle, you must make sure that 2: (a) Your bike has a permanent, regular seat attached to it; (b) 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; (c) 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; (d) At night, your taillight must be red and must be visible from a distance of at least 600 feet; and (e) 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.3

In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts cyclists not only have responsibilities but also have rights. As stated, before cyclists may ride their bicycles 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. Cyclists may ride on sidewalks outside business districts unless local laws prohibit sidewalk riding.4 Cyclists may use either hand to signal stops and turns, only if taking a hand off the handlebars would not endanger the bike rider. 5 Cyclists may pass cars on the right. If you carry children or other passengers inside an enclosed trailer or other devices that will adequately restrain them and protect their heads in a crash, they need not wear helmets. Cyclists may have as many lights and reflectors on the bike as long as they comply with the minimum requirements of the equipment described before.

Nevertheless, cyclists may NOT 6:

  1. 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;
  2. 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 spokes7;
  3. 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;
  4. 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;
  5. You may not carry anything on your bike unless it is in a basket, rack, bag, or trailer designed for the purpose;
  6. You may not modify your bike so that your hands are higher than your shoulders when gripping the handlebars; and
  7. You may not alter the fork of your bike to extend it.

Roads are meant to be shared by all of us. “The rules of the road are for everyone, no matter what they are driving, so we all must never forget 8:

  • Pedestrians have the right of way;
  • Cyclists and other drivers must give pedestrians an audible signal before overtaking or passing them;
  • Cyclists 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;

In complying with State regulations and the safety of youth, Cyclists 16 years old or younger, must wear a helmet that meets U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission requirements on any bike, anywhere, at all times. The helmet must fit the head and the chin strap must be fastened.

1 Commonwealth of Massachusetts Driver’s Manual – Passengers Vehicles – Intro. Revised 2/2018. https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2018/03/21/Drivers_Manual.pdf Accessed: June 24, 2020.

2 Bike Advocacy. Bike Law. https://www.massbike.org/laws#:~:text=You may ride your bicycle, local laws prohibit sidewalk riding. Accessed June 24, 2020.

3 Commonwealth of Massachusetts Driver’s Manual – Passengers Vehicles – Intro. Revised 2/2018. https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2018/03/21/Drivers_Manual.pdf. Page 109. Accessed: June 24, 2020.

4 Bike Advocacy. Bike Law. Your rights. https://www.massbike.org/laws#:~:text=You may ride your bicycle, local laws prohibit sidewalk riding. Accessed June 24, 2020.

5 Commonwealth of Massachusetts Driver’s Manual – Passengers Vehicles – Intro. Revised 2/2018. https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2018/03/21/Drivers_Manual.pdf. Page 109. Accessed: June 24, 2020.

6 Bike Advocacy. Bike Law. Your responsibilities. https://www.massbike.org/laws#:~:text=You may ride your bicycle, local laws prohibit sidewalk riding. Accessed June 24, 2020.

7 Massachusetts General Laws. https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleXIV/Chapter85/Section11B. Accessed: June 24, 2020.

8 Commonwealth of Massachusetts Driver’s Manual – Passengers Vehicles – Intro. Revised 2/2018. https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2018/03/21/Drivers_Manual.pdf. Page 110. Accessed: June 24, 2020.

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