Electrically-assisted bicycles are becoming increasingly popular. Please see my post about them on my personal blog for more detail about this phenomenon.
This definition in Chapter 90, section 1 of the Massachusetts General Laws appears to cover electrically-assisted bicycles:
“Motorized scooter”, any 2 wheeled tandem or 3 wheeled device, that has handlebars, designed to be stood or sat upon by the operator, powered by an electric or gas powered motor that is capable of propelling the device with or without human propulsion. The definition of “motorized scooter” shall not include a motorcycle or motorized bicycle or a 3 wheeled motorized wheelchair.
(A motorized bicycle is defined in the same section as gasoline-powered and capable of speeds up to 30 miles per hour).
Bicycling advocates unfortunately weren’t paying enough attention when the legislation was rushed through when gasoline-powered “mini-motorbikes” were popular a few years ago. These look like ordinary motorcycles but are about half as big, and they are noisy and pollute. They appeal to teenagers. Electrically-assisted bicycles, on the other hand, are quiet, non-polluting, and generally appeal to a more mature clientele — mostly, to older bicyclists who aren’t as strong as they once were.
In section 1E is this horrendous wording, requiring operators of motorized scooters — that is, including electrically-assisted bicycles — to be licensed operators and to pass on the right.
Section 1E. A motorized scooter shall not be operated on any way by a person not possessing a valid driver’s license or learner’s permit, nor at a speed in excess of 20 miles per hour. A person operating a motorized scooter upon a way shall have the right to use all public ways in the commonwealth except limited access or express state highways where signs specifically prohibiting scooters or bicycles have been posted, and shall be subject to all traffic laws and regulations of the commonwealth and the regulations contained in this section, except that: (1) a scooter operator shall keep to the right side of the road at all times, including when passing a motor vehicle which is moving in the travel lane of the way; and (2) the scooter shall be equipped with operational stop and turn signals so that the operator can keep both hands on the handlebars at all times. No person shall operate a motor scooter upon any way at any time after sunset or before sunrise.
20 miles per hour is no faster than pedal-powered bicycles travel, so it is arguable that licensing is not necessary. Passing on the right is usually unsafe and often impossible. For example, requires operators of motorized scooters are required to pass on the right side in a right-turn lane, then invite a right-hook collision when entering the intersection, rather than on the left.
This law needs to change.