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Tuesday, 12 May 2020 23:04

Rules of the Road for Bicyclists

Sharing the Road with Motorists

National Bike Month, sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists and celebrated in communities from coast to coast, was established in 1956 to advocate for a bike friendly America, to showcase the many benefits of bicycling, and to encourage more people to try bicycling. Although this year's events are on hold due to coronavirus, the organization is encouraging people to get on bicycles and ride.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has relaxed the stay at home order, and bicycling is a great way to get out of the house as well as enjoy fresh air and exercise. However, a bicycle is classified as a vehicle, which means bicyclists riding on the roads must obey the same basic traffic laws and regulations that apply to motor vehicle operators.

Before you dust off your bike, fill your tires with air, and map your route, know the rules of the road.

Laws for Bicyclists and Motorists in the Presence of Bicyclists (as amended by Chapter 525 of the Acts of 2008)1

According to Massachusetts Rules of the Road, Chapter 4, "Bicyclists have the right to use all public ways in this state except limited access or express state highways where signs specifically prohibiting bicycles have been posted. When riding on public ways, bicyclists must obey the same basic traffic laws and regulations that apply to motor vehicle operators. The rules for bicycles (including amendments) are listed [below]."

As a bicyclist: (from Chap. 85, Section 11B)

  • You can use the full lane anywhere, anytime, and on any street (except limited access or express state highways where signs specifically prohibiting bicycles have been posted), even if there is a bike lane.
  • You must bike in the same direction as traffic unless otherwise indicated by signs or markings.
  • You must stop at red lights and stop signs.
  • You can keep to the right when passing a motor vehicle moving in the travel lane and you can move to the front of an intersection at stop lights.
  • You must signal your intent by either hand to stop or turn. However, the signal does not have to be continuous or be made at all if both hands are needed for the bicycle’s safe operation. See Appendix E for color images of these signs.
  • You can ride on sidewalks outside of business districts for safety unless banned locally.
  • If on the sidewalk, you must yield to pedestrians and give an audible signal before overtaking or passing (no sirens or whistles).
  • No more than two bicycles can be operated side-by-side.
  • On a roadway with more than one lane in the direction of travel, bicyclists riding side-by-side must stay in one lane and not unnecessarily restrict a passing vehicle’s ability to overtake you.
  • You must maintain a safe distance from other bicyclists, especially when approaching intersections.
  • You must slow down when approaching crosswalks, especially during heavy traffic.
  • You must ride on or astride a permanent seat affixed to the bicycle. A passenger must also ride on a permanent seat attached to the bicycle or to a trailer towed by the bicycle.
  • You cannot transport a person who is between one and four years old or who weighs 40 lbs. or less except in a “baby seat” attached to the bicycle. The person must be in a harness, be seated in an upright position, and their hands and feet must be protected from hitting the wheel spokes. A person can ride on or astride a seat on a tandem bicycle if the person can reach the pedals and handlebars. You cannot transport a child under the age of one year on a bicycle.
  • A bicycle helmet approved by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission must be worn by a bicycle operator or passenger under 16 years old. It must be secured to the person’s head when the bicycle is operated on a public way or bicycle path, unless the passenger is secured in an enclosed trailer which protects his/her head.
  • You must give an audible warning (other than a siren or whistle) when necessary to ensure safe operation.
  • You can park your bicycle on a way or a sidewalk, but only if it does not obstruct vehicle or pedestrian traffic.
  • You cannot let the bicycle be pulled by another vehicle and can only tow a bicycle trailer.
  • You cannot carry any objects that would interfere with the safe operation of the bicycle and must keep one hand on the handlebars at all times.
  • You must have a proper working brake system to stop from 15 MPH within 30 feet.
  • From a half hour after sunset to a half hour before sunrise, you must have a white lamp in front visible from up to 500 feet and a rear facing red light or reflector visible up to 600 feet.
  • From a half hour after sunset to a half hour before sunrise, you must have a reflector on each pedal or your ankles, or reflective material on yourself or on the bicycle. The reflectors must be visible up to 600 feet from all sides.
  • Your handlebars cannot be set at a height above your shoulders while gripping them and you cannot extend the fork from its original manufacturer’s design.
  • You must report any crash involving personal injury and any crash involving property damage in excess of $100 to the police in the municipality where it occurred. In addition to the laws listed above, bicyclists should also do the following:
    • Ride in a straight line so drivers and pedestrians know where to expect you.
    • Ride at appropriate speeds on shared paths and streets. If riding on a sidewalk where it is legal, you must ride at a walking speed and yield to pedestrians.
    • Put your phone away when biking. Do not text and bike.
    • Yield to pedestrians. Be alert and prepared to stop for them.
    • Slow down as you approach crosswalks.
    • Ride outside of the "door zone" (at least three feet from parked cars) and watch for opening car doors.
    • Give other bicyclists room. Pass other bicyclists on the left, not the right. Don't cut in front of other bicyclists who are stopped at an intersection.
    • At intersections, assume drivers cannot see you. Slow down and try to make eye contact with the driver. Anticipate when drivers may turn. Don't try to race by a driver at an intersection. Maintain a safe speed.
    • Give buses, trucks, and other large vehicles room and avoid riding next to them or passing them. They make wide turns, take time to come to a full stop, and have large blind spots. Be especially careful in the rear blind spot and don't assume the driver can see you. Never pass a moving tractor trailer on the right.
    • Don't pass buses on the right. You might hit someone exiting the bus or get squeezed into the curb. If passing a bus on the left, pay attention and expect it to re-enter the lane.
    • Do not wear headphones or earbuds in both ears while biking.

See the complete Rules of the Road document for both bicyclists and drivers.


Ride Predicatably, Ride Defensively Video

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

See other tips and videos at


Ride Safely, Enjoy the Ride

Know your responsibilities and rights as a bicyclist, ride predicatably, and ride defensively to ensure your ride is safe and enjoyable. 

Article updated 5/29/20 


1 Rules of the Road PDF for bicyclists and motorists. (Some of the text and images in the "Laws for Bicyclists and Motorists in the Presence of        Bicyclists" section provided courtesy of the City of Cambridge. For more information, see the document "Street Code - Rules and Etiquette for Getting There Together," which can be found on the website

NHTSA Bicycle Safety


Read 3190 times Last modified on Thursday, 30 July 2020 23:02

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