Bicycle Laws

Northampton is a community that supports and encourages bicycling, both for recreational purposes and as a means of transportation.  The city is home to miles of bike paths that take riders all over the city.  We are also nestled in the five-college area and attract cyclists who are connected to one of the local campuses.  With the high volume of vehicle, bicycle and foot traffic, it is essential that everyone works together to reduce the risk of accidents.  In an effort to prevent and reduce bicycle-related accidents, this section of our website highlights some of the most important laws related to bicycling and operating a motor vehicle around cyclists.

Motor Vehicle Operators

  • Motorists cannot “door” cyclists. This means that before opening the doors to a vehicle, motorists must make sure that this doesn’t interfere with the flow of traffic, whether it be vehicles, pedestrians or cyclists. (MGL C.90§14)
  • Motorists cannot “right-hook” cyclists after passing them. After passing a cyclist travelling in the same direction, motorists cannot make a right turn unless they are a safe distance away from that cyclist. (MGL C.90§14)
  • Motorists cannot “squeeze out” a cyclist. If a motorist cannot overtake and pass a cyclist at a safe distance in the same lane, the driver must either use the adjacent lane if it can be done safely, or wait for a safe opportunity to pass. (MGL C.90§14)
  • After overtaking and passing a cyclist, a motorist cannot return to the right lane until it is safe to do so. (MGL C.89§2)
    These laws are punishable by a $50 fine.

Cyclists- Equipment

  • Bicycles must have permanent, regular seats on them.
  • Bike brakes must be able to stop a bike travelling 15 MPH in under 30 feet on a dry surface.
  • At night, a cyclist must have a white front headlight that is visible from a distance of 500 feet away.
  • At night, a cyclist must have a red rear taillight that is visible from a distance of 500 feet away.
  • At night, reflectors must be visible from the back and side from a distance of 600 feet away.
  • Cyclists must wear reflectors on their ankles if there are no reflectors on the pedals.
  • Handlebars cannot be higher than the rider's shoulders.

          (Nighttime is defined as 1/2 hour after sunset and 1/2 hour before sunrise.)

Cyclists- Helmets and Child Seats

  • Any cyclists that are 16 years old or younger, must wear an US Consumer Products Safety Division approved helmet.  The helmet must fit the rider's head and the chin strap must be secured.
  • No child under the age of 1 can be carried on a bike, even in a child safety seat.  This does not prevent cyclists from transporting these young children in an attached trailer.
  • Any children riding in a trailer that will adequately restrain them and protect their heads in a crash, do not need to wear a helmet.
  • No cyclist may carry a child between the ages of 1-4, 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 seatbelt.  Their hands and feet must be out of reach of the wheel spokes.
  • Cyclists may not carry a passenger anywhere on a bike except for the prescribed seat.

Cyclists- Operation

  • Bicyclists may ride their bikes on any public road, street, or bikeway in the Commonwealth, except on limited access highways.
  • Bicyclists must use hand signals to indicate intention to stop or turn.
  • Bicyclists may use either hand to give signals.
  • Bicyclists may pass cars on the right.
  • Bicyclists must give pedestrians the right of way.
  • Bicyclists must have one hand on the handlebars at all times.
  • Bicyclists must obey all traffic laws. (red lights, yeilding, one way, etc.)
  • Bicyclists must give pedestrians an audible signal before passing them.
  • Bicyclists must ride on the right side of the road.
  • Bicyclists must notify the police of any accident that result in property damage over $100.
  • Bicyclists may not park their bicycles on a street, road or sidewalk so that it will be in the way.
  • Bicyclists may ride on sidewalks outside of business districts, as long as it is not prohibited by local laws or ordinances.

         These laws are punishable by a $20 fine.

This is a simple overview of the most common laws regarding cyclists and motor vehicle law related to cyclists. For further information about Massachusetts bicycle laws, click the following link: Massachusetts Bicycle Laws