Bicycling is a popular mode of transportation and a fun way to stay active in Massachusetts. However, it's important to understand the state's bicycle laws in order to stay safe and avoid legal trouble.
According to the Boston EMS 2020 Cyclist & Pedestrian Report, there were over 300 documented bicyclist incidents in Boston, and per Mass.gov, there are approximately seven cyclist deaths per year in the Commonwealth.
Not only is understanding the state’s bike laws necessary to stay safe, but it can also help you determine fault after a bike accident and recover the compensation you deserve if you sustain injuries and other damages after a collision.
Here’s what you should know about bicycle laws in Massachusetts.
Biking on Roadways
You can ride your bike on any public road or street in Massachusetts unless signs expressly prohibit bicycles. According to Mass.gov, cyclists can use the full lane anywhere, anytime, and on any street, even with a designated bike lane. Cyclists are also prohibited from riding on the sidewalk in business districts.
In Massachusetts, bicycles are considered vehicles and are subject to the same traffic laws as cars and other vehicles. Cyclists must stop at stop signs and red lights, ride in the same direction as traffic, and slow down when approaching crosswalks.
Up to two cyclists can ride side-by-side, but you are required to accommodate passing traffic by either riding in a single-file line or riding in the right-most lane.
Cyclists must use hand signals when making turns or changing lanes on a roadway. The signal for a left turn is extending the left arm straight out to the side, while the signal for a right turn is extending the left arm upward or the right arm straight out to the side.
When stopping, cyclists should extend their left arm downward. Using these signals can help prevent accidents by alerting other drivers of your intentions.
However, cyclists do not have to give a continuous signal, or give a signal at all, if both hands are required to maintain control of their bikes and avoid an accident.
In Massachusetts, all cyclists under the age of 16 are required to wear a helmet while riding a bicycle. This includes both riders and passengers. Cyclists who violate this law can be fined up to $50. While helmets are not required for adult cyclists, they are highly recommended for safety reasons.
Stores that sell bikes must display signs about the state’s helmet law, and stores that rent bikes must also make helmets available to rent.
Bicycle Lights and Reflectors</h2>
To improve visibility and make you less likely to get hit by a vehicle, you are required to use a white headlight visible from up to 500 feet in the front and a red taillight visible from up to 600 feet when riding a bike from a half hour after sunset to a half hour before sunrise.
Yielding to Pedestrians
Unless banned locally, you can ride on sidewalks outside business districts. However, when riding on a sidewalk, cyclists are required to yield to pedestrians.
When passing a pedestrian on a sidewalk or shared-use path, cyclists must give an audible warning, such as a bell or verbal signal, before passing. This law helps ensure the safety of pedestrians, who are more vulnerable than cyclists in accidents.
Right of Way
Since bicycles are considered vehicles in Massachusetts, cyclists are entitled to the same right of way as other vehicles on the road.
When making a left turn, cyclists should yield to oncoming traffic, and when approaching an intersection, cyclists should yield to any vehicle already in the intersection. These rules help prevent accidents and keep everyone on the road safe.
Electric bikes, or e-bikes, are becoming increasingly popular in Massachusetts and around the country., especially as e-bike-sharing apps become more common.
In Massachusetts, e-bikes are divided into three classes based on their speed and power output. Class 1 e-bikes have a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and they can reach speeds up to 20 miles per hour. Class 2 e-bikes have a motor that can propel the bike without pedaling, but they are limited to speeds of 20 miles per hour. Class 3 e-bikes have a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and they can reach speeds up to 28 miles per hour.
Under Massachusetts law, e-bikes are treated like traditional bicycles and are allowed on most public roads and bike paths.
However, there are a few exceptions to keep in mind. E-bikes are prohibited on any paths designated for pedestrians only, nor are they permitted on highways or expressways. Riders must be at least 16 years old to operate a class 1 or class 2 e-bike, and wear a helmet. Class 3 e-bike riders need to be 18 years or older and must wear a helmet.
Some cities and towns in Massachusetts may have their own laws and regulations regarding e-bikes, so be sure to review local laws before riding an e-bike in a new area.
Motorists are obligated to follow several rules to help keep cyclists safe in Massachusetts.
Drivers and passengers are required to check for passing bicyclists before opening their doors. Neglecting this rule can result in a fine of up to $100.
Drivers are also not allowed to make a right turn without checking to see if there are any cyclists in the way, and they must yield to cyclists when making left turns.
Modified Comparative Negligence
Under comparative negligence rules, courts assign each party a percentage of blame after an accident that results in a personal injury.
Massachusetts follows a modified comparative negligence rule. This means that you are not able to recover any damages after an accident if you are found to be more than 50% to blame for the accident.
If your negligence is 50% or less to blame for the accident, you can recover damages, but your award will be reduced in proportion to your share of the blame.
For example, if you are found to be 40% responsible for an accident, then your award will be reduced by 40%.
Taking Your Bike on Public Transportation
Many Massachusetts residents use public transportation to get around, and cyclists are allowed to bring their bikes on board many buses and trains.
There are some restrictions and guidelines to be aware of, though. Bicycles are not allowed on MBTA buses during peak hours, typically 7-9 a.m. and 4-6 p.m. on weekdays. On commuter rail trains, bicycles are allowed at all times except during weekday rush hours, when they are not allowed on inbound trains to Boston in the morning or outbound trains from Boston in the evening.
Bikes are also never allowed on the Green Line or Mattapan Trolley.
How Much Can Someone Sue For a Bike Accident in Massachusetts?
If you are involved in a bike accident in Massachusetts, and the negligence of another party caused it, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries and other damages.
The amount you can sue for will depend on several factors, including the severity of your injuries, the extent of your property damage, and the circumstances of the accident.
In Massachusetts, there is no limit to the amount of damages that can be awarded in a personal injury lawsuit, which means that the court can award you any amount that it deems appropriate based on the facts of your case.
While there is a $500,000 cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases, this does not apply to most personal injury claims, including injuries from bike accidents.
It’s important to maintain accurate records of all the damages you sustain as a result of your accident to maximize your total award. This may include medical bills, receipts for bike repair or replacement, and any other documents that can support your claim.
The Statute of Limitations in Massachusetts
The statute of limitations is the time period within which a lawsuit must be filed in order for it to be valid. It’s important to know the statute of limitations for personal injury cases so that you don’t miss out on your chance to recover damages after a bike accident.
In Massachusetts, the statute of limitations for personal injury cases, including bicycle accidents, is three years from the date of the accident. This means that if you are injured in a bicycle accident in Massachusetts, you have three years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit against the responsible party.
If you fail to file within this time period, your case will likely be dismissed.
Is Massachusetts a no-fault state?
Yes, Massachusetts is a no-fault state. This means that each party’s personal injury protection insurance covers their own injuries after a car accident. In no-fault insurance states, individuals can typically only sue for damages in certain situations.
In bike accident cases, the driver’s insurance is required to cover the first $2,000 of your medical expenses, according to MassBike.org. You may also be able to recover lost wages from the driver’s auto insurance policy.
Legal Resources for Massachusetts Bicycle Accident Victims
If you are involved in a bicycle accident in Massachusetts, several resources are available to help you navigate the legal process and get the compensation you deserve.
Here are a few resources to keep in mind.
The Massachusetts Bar Association
The Massachusetts Bar Association provides resources and referrals to lawyers specializing in personal injury cases, including bicycle accidents.
The Association’s Dial-A-Lawyer program allows individuals to call a hotline for free legal advice from volunteer attorneys.
The Massachusetts Trial Court Law Libraries
The Trial Court Law Libraries include access to a variety of free legal resources, including access to legal databases, legal research guides, and legal reference materials.
This resource can help bike accident victims learn more about their rights as cyclists and begin building their cases after an accident.
MassBike is a nonprofit organization that advocates for better bicycling conditions in Massachusetts.
This organization provides resources and support to cyclists, including legal resources for those involved in accidents. The website contains resources about bike laws, insurance, recovering damages after an accident, and more helpful information.
The Boston Cyclists Union
The Boston Cyclists Union is a nonprofit advocacy organization that works to make bicycling safer and more accessible in the Boston area.
The Boston Cyclists Union provides resources and support to cyclists, including legal resources for those involved in accidents.
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