Where will you find Massachusetts Rules for Driving?

Massachusetts rules for driving are found in many different documents. These apply in different places, so depending on where you are, different rules may apply.

The most generally applicable rules for driving are found in Chapter 89 of the General Laws.

Specific rules which apply to bicyclists are in Chapter 85, Sections 11A through 11F.

This section fortunately prohibits cities and towns from prohibiting bicycle use, though not all act accordingly.

Additional rules which apply mostly to operators of motor vehicles are found in Chapter 90. Most of these are found in Section 14. This section includes some rules which ought to apply to all vehicle operators, including bicyclists, but don’t. The section also includes a couple of rules that do apply to operators of all vehicles, including bicyclists. There are some very nasty rules which apply to electrically-assisted bicycles and low-speed motor vehicles, and I have covered those in a previous post on this blog.

In none of these sections is there a definition of a bicycle. The City of Boston attempted to define bicycles as vehicles through a bill introduced in the 2009-2010 legislative session.

The bicycle is, however, already specifically defined as a vehicle in Code of Massachusetts Regulations 720 (CMR 720) — but this applies only on state highways. What is are state highways? Did you expect a simple answer? Sorry, this is Massachusetts! They’re not the same as numbered highways — you may have seen the signs that say “state highway begins” (or “ends”). Only those segments that are managed by the state are state highways. Many segments are managed by cities and towns.

However, the definition of “bicycle” in CMR 720 is actually one of the best anywhere in the country — it includes tricycles and avoids arbitrary distinctions based on wheel size etc. (The laws of many states assume that a bicycle with 20-inch or smaller wheels must be a child’s bicycle, though many folding bicycles and recumbents designed for adults have small wheels). Here’s the Massachusetts definition:

Bicycle. Any wheeled vehicle propelled by pedals and operated by one or more persons.

Vehicle. Every device in, upon or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, including bicycles when the provisions of these rules are applicable to them, except other devices moved by human power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks and devices which derive their power for operation from stationary overhead wires.

Parts of CMR 720 are online, including, at long last, the rules for driving on state highways.

CMR 720 includes quite a number of rules of the road which are not in the Statutes. These have been in place for many years. I speculate that the Department of Public Works (which became the Highway Department, and now is part of MassDOT) saw that the traffic laws had important omissions — Massachusetts traffic law is the nation’s most disorganized and antiquated — and determined to fill in the gaps on roads within MHD’s purview. One rule of particular importance to bicyclists is the definition of limited-access highways and express state highways. Express state highways are defined:

Express State Highway. A divided arterial highway for through traffic with full or partial control of access and generally with grade separations at intersections

Note that these highways do not have to have full control of access — bicycles can be banned from highways which have trip generators along them. Limited-access highways are defined as:

Limited Access Highway. An express state highway with full control of access.

Signs must, however, be posted in either case, to put a bicycle ban into effect.

9.08: Limited Access and Express State Highways

(1) Effect of 720 CMR 9.00. 720 CMR 9.08(2) shall be effective on all limited access State Highways and express state highways where official signs have been posted prohibiting bicycles, pedestrians and/or horsedrawn vehicles.

(2) Limited Access and Express State Highway Regulations.

(a) Horsedrawn Vehicles. No person shall ride or drive a horse or a horsedrawn vehicle within the limits of or on any portion of any highway where official signs have been erected at the approaches of said highway prohibiting such traffic.

(b) Bicycles. No person shall operate or ride a bicycle within the limits of or on any portion of any highway where official signs have been erected at the approaches of said highway prohibiting such traffic.

(c) Pedestrians. No person shall use any highway for pedestrian or foot traffic purposes except in emergency, where official signs have been erected at the approaches of said highway prohibiting such traffic.

In practice, these regulations are loosely observed, and there are deviations in both directions. Some highways which do not meet the requirements where signs prohibiting bicycling are posted. For example, part of Route 88 in Westport, near New Bedford, is posted, though it is not divided and has wide shoulders which would be fine for bicycling. As noted, what is and is not a state highway is not at all obvious, as many numbered highway segments are owned by cities, towns and the DCR, etc.

There are also some rather quaint and redundant rules for driving under CMR 350, which applies to DCR property.

That’s where we get the wording of the signs indicating that parkways are “for pleasure vehicles only” — language which goes back to the days of horses and carriages, banning commercial wagons — but which now has been updated (and degraded) to apply to passenger cars and pickup trucks.

And — in CMR 700, there are rules for driving that apply only to certain specific roads and bridges

CMR 730 includes some rules for driving on the Massachusetts Turnpike
— specifically, the meaning of certain kinds of traffic lights. Now, this is a bicycle blog, but I’m trying to be complete here. Also, I have long maintained that bicycle access to the shoulders of the MassPike bridge over the Connecticut River would be a useful improvement, providing a convenient and safe connection.

<a href="http://www.lawlib.state.ma.us/source/mass/cmr/cmrtext/740CMR11.pdf”>CMR 740 includes some rules for driving on the Tobin Bridge. this bridge doesn’t have shoulders, but, again, I’m trying to be complete.

Confusing? Disorganized? Yes, and more than I even used to think, because, now that the regulations are online, I’ve found rules for driving in more places than I ever know about before.

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2 Responses to Where will you find Massachusetts Rules for Driving?

  1. Paul Schimek says:

    But wait there’s more. There are some (old) driving rules in Chapter 85, Ways and Bridges, including those granting regulatory power to cities and towns (including “regulating and controlling persons who frequent public places playing on hand organs, drums, trumpets or other musical instruments, upon or through any public way” – Section 10). But also rules on coasting, funeral processions, basic requirement for lights on all vehicles, & prohibiting bikes, peds, and animals on limited access highways.

    It also contains, in Section 2, the authority for the DOT to establish standard traffic rules, with some exceptions. The city & town rules are another place to look for traffic laws. The model state law referenced in Section 2, and mostly but not uniformly copied in city & town regulations, is also on line here, Appendix A, beginning halfway down page 28:

    Some cities & towns have widely inconsistent (and thus probably unlawful) rules, notably Somerville’s bike rule: “Not withstanding the provisions of Section 13-6, bicyclists shall yield the right-of-way to
    motorists making a right turn maneuver in a bicycle lane. Except when overtaking a slower
    bicyclist or to make a left turn maneuver, or to avoid a hazard, bicyclists shall stay within
    marked bicycle lanes.”


  2. Paul Schimek says:

    In regard to the word “vehicle” legally including “bicycle:” In MGL Chapter 89, The Law of the Road, the term “vehicle” is undefined. However the original versions of these statutes date to the 1820s, and Mass. courts have always interpreted them to apply to bicycles (and motor vehicles), even though neither were around when the rules were adopted.

    (Thus the bill you reference is unnecessary, and wrong, since it makes a definition applicable to the “section” rather than the “chapter.” Also, it doesn’t solve the problem, since many of the basic traffic rules are in Chapter 90, which does specifically refer to *motor* vehicles and their operators.)

    The state model municipal traffic code explicitly includes “bicycle” in “vehicle” but adds “when the provisions of these rules are applicable to them.” When are they applicable? Who knows, since the word “bicycle” is not again used. Every Mass. city & town traffic regulation that I have seen follows the state model for the definition of vehicle.

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