Traffic congestion on the roads, rising gas prices, unreliable public transit systems - just a few of the reasons why Massachusetts residents have ditched their cars or transit passes for a bicycle on their daily commutes. Over the past few years, Massachusetts has become a popular place for bicycle riders. However, sharing the road with cyclists has proven to be a struggle for Massachusetts motorists and an extreme danger for bicyclists. Last month marked the fifth death of a cyclist in Boston this year alone. More often than not, accidents like these are caused by the negligence of motorists. The motor vehicle operator may have failed to keep a proper look-out for the bicyclist, turned improperly, failed to yield to the right of way, failed to leave the proper amount of room for the cyclist, or may have simply misjudged the bike's speed. These are serious incidents and can cause extensive injuries and death.
With an increase in bicycle lanes and the number of bicycles on the road, it is important for drivers to be aware of their responsibilities. The responsibilities of Massachusetts motorists can be found in the Massachusetts General Laws (see M.G.L., c. 89, §2 and c. 90, §14) and a few of the relevant responsibilities are outlined below.
Motorists must stay a safe distance to the left of a bicyclist when passing and are prohibited from returning to the right until safely clear of the bicyclist. Additionally, motorists must pass a bicycle at a safe distance. If the lane is too narrow to pass safely, the motorist must use another lane to pass. If use of the other lane is unsafe, the motorist must wait until it is safe to pass.
Motorists must yield to oncoming bicyclists when making left turns. Motorists are prohibited from taking abrupt right turns at intersections after passing a cyclist. The law expressly includes yielding to bicyclists riding to the right of other traffic (e.g., on the shoulder). Motorists may not use the fact that bicyclists were riding to the right of traffic as a legal defense for causing a crash with a bicyclist. Bicyclists who are injured due to negligent motor vehicle operation may hold drivers liable for their negligence.