Montana, home to numerous biking trails, has around 30 million acres of land surrounded by wide open spaces, peaceful waterways, and rolling grassland. Several of its state parks have been curated with biking trails and bike camping sites, which include Lewis & Clark Caverns, the Headwaters Trail System, and Travelers' Rest. Other scenic routes are the Old Yellowstone and Riverfront Trails.
Despite these programs and infrastructure, the League of American Bicyclists ranked Montana as one of the 10 least bike-friendly states in the US in 2022. The study also determined that it should focus on improving its traffic laws and practices since there are an average of 2.5 fatalities per 10,000 bicycle commuters in the state. In line with this, Bike Walk Montana has advocated for safer and more accessible local and state spaces for bicyclists.
Understanding the bicycling laws and regulations in this article can help accident victims gain insight into their rights and assess whether their situation involved a violation or negligence. They can also use the information here as a guide for insurance claims and potential legal action.
Montana Bicycles’ Right to the Road
Montana bicycle riders have the same legal rights and responsibilities as other motor vehicle operators while on the road.
Cyclists on roadways going slower than the normal traffic speed must use the highway's right-hand lane. They may use another lane only in the following instances:
When overtaking or passing a slower vehicle.
When preparing for a left turn.
When the right-hand lane is dedicated to right turns and they are not turning right.
When they need to avoid unsafe conditions.
Bicyclists must also ride in a single file unless they are on a designated bike path, passing another cyclist, using a paved shoulder, or in a single lane with two or more lanes going in the same direction. In addition, they are not expected to ride through or over hazards on the side of a road, such as narrow lanes, animals, surface hazards, and fixed or moving objects.
Cyclists who violate bicycle traffic regulations may be charged with a misdemeanor.
Bicycle Lane Laws in Montana
Bicycle lanes have been established in Montana to protect cyclists from traffic risks. The law prevents other motor vehicle drivers from operating or parking on these dedicated lanes.
Motor vehicle operators can only cross a bike lane when they are going to switch lanes or make a turn. Additionally, they must give way to bicyclists and provide them with the right-of-way to prevent collisions.
Law on Bicycle Riders Clinging to Vehicles
Montana legislation prohibits cyclists from attaching or clinging to other vehicles on roadways to prevent accidents and injuries. The law also covers individuals riding roller skates, sleds, toy vehicles, mopeds, and coasters.
However, attaching trailers to bicycles and using them to carry passengers and cargo is allowed.
Rules on Riding a Bike on Sidewalks in Montana
Bike riders in Montana are treated as pedestrians on sidewalks and bicycle lanes. Moreover, cyclists are required to yield to pedestrians on crosswalks and sidewalks if they become an obstruction. They must also play an audible signal if they come across a pedestrian they plan to pass or overtake.
Meanwhile, riding a bike on and along sidewalks is not allowed if official traffic control devices prohibit the action.
Montana Bicycle Equipment Requirements
Bicycle operators in Montana must follow equipment requirements to ensure visibility and safety on the road from day to night.
A bicycle must be equipped with proper lights and reflectors on each side. These include a front white light placed on either of the handlebars or on the helmet. It must be visible from a 500-foot distance to the front to ensure an illuminated path. Moreover, a red light or reflector should be installed on the rear and visible from 500 feet away. The attached reflector should be visible when illuminated by low-beam headlamps.
To ensure bicycles can adequately react to potential hazards, they must have a working brake system. This should allow their riders to put them to a complete stop at a speed of 10 mph within a maximum distance of 25 feet on clean, dry pavement.
A permanent and regular seat is also a required feature on bicycles.
Montana Bicycle Helmet Regulations
There are no statewide laws on bicycle helmet use. However, wearing one is still strongly suggested in Montana.
In some cities, such as Billings, there are ordinances that mandate children aged 16 and under to wear protective helmets while operating a bicycle. Bike rental businesses are also required to provide protective helmets to renters.
Montana Laws on Carrying Articles on Bicycles
Montana has established specific regulations on carrying articles while riding a bicycle. These include not being allowed to carry any package or item that prevents a person from maintaining at least one hand on a bike’s handlebars.
This rule was created so a cyclist’s ability to control his bike is not compromised; having both hands on the handlebars can help one remain stable and be ready to take evasive action when necessary.
Montana Law on Electric Bicycles
According to Montana law, electric bikes — also known as electrically assisted bicycles — are defined as any two-wheeled vehicle with an electric motor below 750 watts that can travel below 20 mph on level surfaces while carrying a rider weighing 170 pounds.
Electric bicycles are granted similar legal rights as bikes and other motor vehicles, and their riders are subject to all the underlying responsibilities and duties.
Montana Is an At-Fault State for Bike Accidents
Montana is an at-fault state for insurance claims. Injured victims in bicycle accidents need to prove to the court that the other party is at fault. In line with this, they have three options to file a claim:
Through a first-party claim with their own insurance company.
Through a third-party claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
Through a bicycle accident lawsuit against the at-fault driver.
For accidents where more than one individual is at fault, Montana follows the modified comparative negligence system, with the damages and injuries sustained to be divided among the at-fault parties based on their degree of liability.
Under this rule, only individuals found to be less than 51% at fault are allowed to recover damages. This means an injured person is barred from recovering compensation if they are deemed at least 51% responsible for the accident.
How Much Can One Sue for a Bicycle Accident in Montana
It can be difficult to determine the average value of Montana bicycle accident claims because the amount of a settlement or jury award varies widely based on the specifics of a case.
With the modified comparative negligence rule, the total damages that can be awarded to a plaintiff are reduced by their percentage of fault. For example, if a bicycle accident victim has been awarded $100,000 and was found 30% negligent, they can only receive 70% — or $70,000 — of the total compensation.
In Montana, compensation that covers economic and non-economic damages has no caps. Economic damages include monetary losses such as hospital bills, property damage, and rehabilitation costs. Meanwhile, non-economic damages cover non-financial losses, including mental distress and the loss of consortium. Additionally, Montana allows punitive damages of up to $10 million or 3% of a defendant's net worth, whichever is lower.
If you have been involved in a bicycle accident in the state, it is essential to contact a personal injury lawyer who can help you understand the potential value of your case based on your specific situation and work to secure the best possible outcome on your behalf.
Montana Statute of Limitations for Bicycle Accidents
Montana has a three-year statute of limitations for filing a bicycle accident lawsuit. Plaintiffs must pursue legal action within three years from the date of the accident to prevent being barred from receiving compensation. Meanwhile, claims for personal property damage must be brought within two years of the event.
There are some circumstances where the statute of limitations can be extended or shortened, such as when a bicycle accident involves wrongful death. In this case, the statute of limitations may last up to 10 years.
If you are a bike accident victim, it is in your best interest to promptly file a claim before the statute of limitations expires. You are highly advised to consult with an attorney to be guided on the exact timeframe and any exceptions that apply to your case.
Legal Resources for Montana Bicycle Accident Victims
The Montana Law Help Lawyer Referral Service connects bicycle accident victims to qualified lawyers based on their needs and case requirements. Plaintiffs can provide basic details about their situation, and the program will match them to an experienced personal injury attorney who can guide and legally represent them.
The Montana Courts Pro Bono Programs website lists various initiatives aiming to provide legal assistance to low-income plaintiffs — such as bicycle accident victims — who would otherwise be unable to afford legal representation. It connects them to a network of volunteer attorneys and legal professionals who can help them navigate complex legal processes and advocate for them in court.
Montana Free Legal Answers, a collaborative effort between the American Bar Association and the State Bar Association of Montana, strives to conveniently deliver free advice and answers to people’s legal questions. It offers anonymity and assists with various legal matters, including bicycle accidents.
The Montana Highway Patrol Crash Release Form is a document the agency uses to collect and record information about motor vehicle accidents, including those involving bicycles. Individuals involved in a crash need to include details like the date, time, and location of the accident, the parties involved, witness statements, and a narrative description of the incident. The information recorded on the form can help establish the facts of an accident and support a victim's claim for compensation.
The Montana Department of Transportation developed this guide to help road users enhance their safety while on the road. It provides tips on preventing accidents and promotes responsible bicycling practices. It discusses topics such as helmet use, traffic laws and regulations, and rules on sharing the road. Bicycle accident victims can also use the resource to understand their legal rights and responsibilities.
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