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Massachusetts Laws for Motorists Driving in the Presence of Bicyclists

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Motorists Driving in the Presence of Bicyclists Must Follow These Laws in Massachusetts

Do you know your responsibilities as a driver when sharing the road with bicyclists?

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. Motorists must follow additional rules and regulations when driving in the presence of bicyclists.

The following is a summary of Massachusetts bike law for drivers:  

As a motorist in the presence of bicycles: (see Massachusetts General Law Chapter 89, Section 2 and Chapter 90, Section 14)1 

  • Do Not Cut-Off After Passing: When passing a bicycle traveling in the same direction that is on your right, you must not return to the right until you have safely passed the overtaken bicycle. (Chap. 89, Sec. 2)

  • Do Not Make an Abrupt Turn After Passing: When passing a bicycle near an intersection or driveway where you want to turn right, you cannot turn unless you are at a safe distance from the bicyclist and you can make the turn at a reasonable and proper speed. (Chap. 90, Sec 14)

  • Do Not Squeeze Bicycles in a Narrow Lane: If a lane is too narrow to pass a bicycle at a safe distance, be PATIENT until you can safely use an adjacent lane or WAIT until it is safe to pass in the lane you share. (Chap. 89, Sec. 2) You should stay at least three feet away when passing.

  • Do Not Fail to Yield When Turning Left: When turning left at an intersection or into an alley, private road, or driveway, you must yield the right of way to a vehicle approaching from the opposite direction, including a bicycle, if it is in the intersection or close enough to be an immediate hazard. (Chap. 90, Sec 14)

  • Watch for Bicycles on Your Right: Bicycles can legally ride to the right of motor vehicle traffic. The law says it is not a defense for a motorist causing a crash with a bicycle that the bicycle was to the right of other traffic. (Chap. 85, Sec 11B)

  • Do Not Open a Door Without First Looking: Drivers and passengers can be fined up to $100 for opening a vehicle door into an oncoming bicycle. (Chap. 90, Sec 14) Before opening your door, you should always check behind you to make sure that no bicyclists are approaching. 

    (Related post:  Dutch Reach Technique.)

  • Be aware that bicyclists can ride two bicycles side-by-side. However, on a road with more than one lane in the direction of travel, they must stay in one lane. (Chap. 85, Sec. 11B) 

  • Be aware that bicyclists Do Not Always Have to Signal Turns! Bicyclists must signal their 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. (Chap. 85, Sec. 11B)

Bicycle Boxes

Bicycle boxes are pavement markings that are installed at intersections to allow bicyclists a safe way to turn when approaching a red light. Bicycle boxes are green and have an image of a bicyclist. At intersections, they are painted on the pavement before the crosswalk and they cover the entire travel lane.2

  • Drivers must stop behind the bicycle box (even when it's empty) and wait for a green light.
  • Bicyclists who are turning left should stop in the bicycle box, move to the left side of the box, signal the turn, and wait for the green light. Bicyclists traveling straight or turning right should stay to the right in the bicycle box, in a staggered formation, and wait for the green light.

Bike Box Etiquette from the City of Cambridge MA

Bicycle boxes can also be used by bicyclists to make a two-stage left turn. A two-stage left turn allows bicyclists to make a left turn in two separate steps, rather than crossing multiple lanes of traffic:

Step 1: Cross straight through the intersection on the green light and stop in the bicycle box for the road you are turning onto.

Step 2: Wait for the green light and go straight through the intersection

Separated Bicycle Lanes

Separated bicycle lanes, also known as cycle tracks and protected bike lanes, physically separate bicycle traffic from vehicular traffic. Where bicycle lanes cross an intersection, they are indicated by green pavement throughout the intersection with an image of a bicyclist. Bicycle lanes are not intended for pedestrians, who must stay on the sidewalk.2

Separated bike lanes, courtesy of the City of Cambridge MA

At intersections, drivers must stop at the stop line to allow pedestrians and bicyclists to cross safely. When turning right, drivers must yield to pedestrians and bicyclists who are crossing.

Bicyclists must ride in the proper direction on bicycle lanes. At intersections, bicyclists must ride in the lane through the intersection, while watching for turning vehicles. Bicyclists must yield to crossing pedestrians. 


Sharing the Road: It's Everyone's Responsibility

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that for drivers, sharing the road begins with the understanding that bicyclists and motorcyclists have the same rights as you. They also face unique safety challenges, such as being smaller and less visible. Look for cyclists where vehicles do not appear, like before making a left-hand turn at an intersection. Also, be aware that motorcyclists may have to downshift and weave to avoid bumps and road hazards.3


Related Reading:

  • Have you heard of the Dutch Reach technique? This simple technique helps to prevent injuries and save lives. In Massachusetts, this technique will also help you and your passengers avoid a ticket or a fine.


1 and | Download the complete Massachusetts Rules of the Road PDF here.


3 Images courtesy of the City of Cambridge, MA

Disclaimer: Massachusetts laws and guidelines may change without notice. The information contained in this blog post is current as of May 1, 2021. Please refer to, Massachusetts RMV, and other noted sources for changes to laws and guidelines. 

Read 2294 times Last modified on Wednesday, 12 May 2021 22:10

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