by: Leslie S. Harkavy, Esquire
Earlier this year, our local community Facebook page posed questions from concerned citizens about the bicycle laws in Massachusetts. In our town, bicycle riders were using the town sidewalks in a commercial area to ride their bicycles. People were scared at the speed with which the bicyclists were riding and whether or not it was legal for bicyclists to be riding on the sidewalks or even to abandon their bicycles on the sidewalks when they went into the local stores. No one really knew the answers to the question: Where is it legal to ride a bicycle?
The laws pertaining to bicycle riding in Massachusetts can be found in General Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Chapter 85, Section 11B. This blog will answer questions about where and how you can safely ride your bicycle in Massachusetts.
- Can you ride your bicycle in Massachusetts on a sidewalk?
Yes. Bicycles may be ridden on sidewalks outside of business districts, when necessary, in the interest of safety, unless otherwise directed by the local ordinance. However, a person operating a bicycle on the sidewalk shall yield the right of way to pedestrians and give an audible signal before overtaking and passing any pedestrian. If a local ordinance exists permitting bicycle riding inside of business districts, then it is fine for a bicyclist to ride their bicycle on a sidewalk. While walking on a sidewalk, take care to listen for an approaching bicyclist warn you of their presence by using an audible signal such as verbally saying as they approach “On your left” …. or perhaps even ringing a bell. That is how a bicyclist can warn a pedestrian to be aware that the bicyclist is approaching to get your attention prior to passing you on the sidewalk.
- Can a bicyclist pass you on the right on the road while you are driving in Massachusetts?
Yes. A bicyclist can pass you on the right. You may be driving in your car, stopped in traffic, and see out of the corner of your eye, a bicycle approaching from the right and then passes you. This is O.K. for a bicyclist to do. The law allows for bicyclists to pass a motor vehicle on the right. The bicyclist should signal by hand of his intention to stop or turn, provided signals may not be used continuously and not if both hands are necessary for the safe operation of the bicycles.
- Can a bicycle rider take up an entire travel lane?
Yes. A bicyclist may take up an entire travel lane. You may be up on a Sunday morning headed to the store for some milk and eggs. You get in your car, drive down the road, and suddenly you come upon bicyclists riding, next to each other taking up the entire travel lane. They are actually riding 2 x 2. The law in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts says that operators of bicycles riding together can definitely ride 2 abreast. However, while you may ride two abreast, you 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.
- Who has to wear a helmet while riding a bicycle?
Anyone 16 or younger must wear a helmet while bike riding. The law in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts specifically states that any person 16 years of age or younger operating a bicycle shall wear a helmet. The helmet needs to fit the person’s head. The law goes on to state that the helmet shall be secured to the person’s head by straps while the bicycle is being operated. The helmet also needs to meet the standards for helmets established by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. So, if you are 16 or younger, be sure to wear your helmet. Even if you are 17 or older, and not legally required to wear a helmet, for safety reasons, it makes sense to always wear one regardless of age to protect your head in the event of an accident. We see a lot of head injuries from bicycle accidents that could have been avoided if wearing a helmet. Please note, however, that motorcyclists must wear a helmet regardless of age.
- What if you are in an accident with a motor vehicle while riding your bicycle?
It is all too common in our practice that we see clients coming in the door having been struck while riding a bicycle. It can happen while walking or riding through a crosswalk; it can happen while riding the bicycle straight ahead when someone turns into them; and it can happen when you are leaving your own driveway. The scenarios are endless and injuries usually serious and painful. First you likely have fallen off your bicycle. You may be bruised, and worse have some broken bones. If you are injured by a car, it’s best to get the medical help you need as soon as possible. It is also helpful to contact a personal injury lawyer for advice.
- Do you have to fill out a police report if you are riding your bicycle and struck by a car?
If you are driving a vehicle and in an auto accident with another car, the laws are pretty clear that you have to fill out an accident report. However, if you are in an accident with a car while riding your bicycle, what then? The law in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts states that yes, you are required to report any accident involving either personal injury or property damage in excess of one hundred dollars, or both, to the police department in the city or town in which the accident occurred. This means that a bicyclist should complete an operator’s report if someone is injured in the crash or the bicycle and/or car are damaged.
- Where should people park their bicycles?
Can bicyclist park their bikes wherever they want to? No – a bicyclist needs to park his bicycle in such a manner as not to obstruct vehicular or pedestrian traffic. This means that a bicycle should not be abandoned or left lying on a sidewalk or a street, even temporarily. Many cities and towns have bicycle racks in various locations for the public to use.
- What if I get injured while riding a bicycle?
The primary concern if injured in a bicycle accident is to immediately deal with your medical needs. Do you need an ambulance? Require emergency room care? Do you need follow up care with a medical specialist? Require surgical intervention for broken bones or other serious injuries?
If you are injured in an accident, call the police to the scene immediately. This is important for the police to perform their job of investigating accidents, preserving evidence, and obtaining witness accounts. Also, the police should get all the necessary information about the owner and driver of the vehicle that struck you on your bike. However, in a perfect world, we tell clients to get the registration from the driver at the scene and see their license and take down all information such as the make, year, model of the vehicle, plate number, name and address of the driver, and insurance information. Some victims of bike accidents are not able to do this. This is when the police are vital to secure the information. However, our advice is to not rely on police for this information and get it yourself. Some clients can call a family member or friend to the scene to help. This is usually very helpful as they can obtain the information for them.
In the event you don’t feel seriously injured and just a little banged up, do not make the mistake we see too many victims make- do not allow the driver of the vehicle of the scene to leave without giving you all the necessary information. Be on the safe side, get the other driver’s information regardless of how you feel or if you think your bike is not damaged. Why? Because very often, our clients riding bikes in accidents are in shock and in the moment, say they are ok and let the driver escape any responsibility by allowing them to drive away without getting a plate number or the identity of the driver or other important information. Recently, we had a bicyclist hit by a car on his way to work tell the driver he thought he was ok. The driver got away as soon as he could without making himself known. Our client discovered his expensive bicycle is a total loss and he has some broken bones and other injuries requiring medical attention. He went to the police and the police tried to secure surveillance video from the area to identify the car and owner. However, the police were not successful. This client now lost his ability to seek recovery against the driver’s insurance. We are pursuing a claim through his own car insurance which is a whole other process.
- What should I do if I am in a bicycle accident?
Be sure to take photographs of the scene, the car involved, the damage to the car, your bicycle, and your injuries as these are all very important pieces of evidence in a bicycle case. We suggest having a friend or family member secure this for you if you are badly injured. The names, addresses and phone numbers of any witnesses at the scene are also important for purposes of proving who is responsible for the accident. Unfortunately, the driver of the car may attempt to blame the bicyclist for the accident to escape any liability. Having an unbiased witness provide their account of what happened usually helps our clients a lot. For example, we have witnesses state the car was speeding, weaving in and out of traffic, made a turn in front of the bicyclist, was not paying attention with their head turned or were texting or on their phone or ran the red light or stop sign.
Once the injured bicyclist has addressed their injuries and immediate medical needs, so they are stable and safe, we recommend the victim call an experienced personal injury attorney before the insurance company tries to knock on their door pretending to be concerned and helpful. This is necessary to protect the victim’s interests and advise them of their rights to place them in the best possible position to recover for the harm caused by a negligent driver.
The lawyers at Nadeau Harkavy LLC help victims and their families recover compensation for their losses in serious injury and wrongful death cases arising from bicycle accidents, motor vehicle accidents, slip and falls, or through any other accident. Make sure everything is done to protect your interests. If you have any questions about your legal rights relating to a car accident, wrongful death, or other accident, feel free to contact us for a free consult today at 617-674-7640.