Massachusetts law about motorized bicycles is a confused and disorganized mess. I’ll delineate the problems and make recommendations here.
- the law makes no distinction between electrically-assisted bicycles and ones with gasoline engines;
- definitions overlap;
- there are provisions which contradict the general provisions of traffic law, including a prohibition against merging to the left side of the roadway to overtake (thus prohibiting overtaking under many conditions, or requiring overtaking on the right) and a prohibition on riding at night — on motorized vehicles which must have lighting supplied as standard equipment. Every other type of vehicle from a bicycle to a large truck or bus may be used at night, with appropriate lighting equipment.
I found the definitions below in Chapter 90, section 1 of the General Laws. The definition of “motorized scooter” encompasses electrically-assisted bicycles, but it dumps them into the same category as gasoline-powered ones — a big mistake, because an electrically-assisted bicycle does not create a nuisance with noise and pollution when used on paths. The definition of “motorized scooter” overlaps with those of “motorized bicycle” even though they claim to be exclusive of one another.
“Motorized bicycle”, a pedal bicycle which has a helper motor, or a non-pedal bicycle which has a motor, with a cylinder capacity not exceeding fifty cubic centimeters, an automatic transmission, and which is capable of a maximum speed of no more than thirty miles per hour.
“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.
The following was enacted as Chapter 396 of the Acts of 2004 and is in Chapter 90, section 1E of the General Laws. Boldface is mine.
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.
A person operating a motorized scooter shall wear protective headgear conforming with such minimum standards of construction and performance as the registrar may prescribe. No person operating a motorized scooter shall permit any other person to ride as a passenger on the scooter.
Problems with the motorized scooter section:
- There is no definition of electrically-assisted bicycle separate from that of a bicycle with a gasoline engine. Definitions of electrically-assisted bicycles generally include a power limitation and a limitation to 20 mph on speed which can be reached under motor power.
- The Massachusetts law requires a driver’s license for what is essentially a bicycle.
- The rule requiring keeping to the right side of the road at all times, even when overtaking, is wildly incorrect and dangerous.
- The law places electric and gasoline-powered vehicles in the same category, allowing both on shared-use paths. Gasoline-powered ones produce fumes and noise inconsistent with the purpose of paths.
- Prohibiting passengers also is unreasonable, particularly as many electrically-assisted “longtail” bicycles are designed to carry a child passenger.
- Turn signals make sense on a vehicle with a throttle control on the handlebar, but are unnecessary on an electrically-assisted bicycle where motor power is applied as an enhancement to pedal power: bicyclists use hand signals. A stop signal can be appropriate if the vehicle can be propelled without pedaling. (Some electrically assisted bicycles can/others cannot. A bicyclist’s stopping pedaling serves as a stop signal.)
- The prohibition on riding between sunset and sunrise is outrageous and does not apply to any other type of vehicle. Any powered vehicle easily incorporates lighting and reflectors.
- There is no description of the standard which applies for a helmet: such descriptions exist for bicycles, motorized bicycles and motorcycles.
My recollection is that this bizarre law was rushed through the legislature in response to a fad a few years ago for “mini motorcycles” — vehicles which look like motorcycles but are much smaller — which were being ridden by teenagers. Citing the teenagers for driving without a license, and applying the equipment provisions of law for motorized bicycles, would have addressed this problem in a reasonable way.
In Chapter 90, Section 1C, we also have
Section 1C. Motorized bicycles and motorized scooters shall comply with all applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards.
This would require lighting on any motorized vehicle, and so if lighting is required, what is the sense of banning riding at night?
A vulnerable road user’s bill introduced in the 2013-2014 session does not cover operators of motorized bicycles, “motorized scooters” (including electrically-assisted bicycles) or motorcycles, though they are as vulnerable as bicyclists, and motorcyclists have a far higher injury and fatality rate.
SECTION 1. Section 1 of chapter 90 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2008 Official Edition, is hereby amended by inserting after line , the following sentence:- ““Vulnerable user” means a pedestrian or a person operating a bicycle, handcycle, tricycle, skateboard, roller skates, in-line skates, or non-motorized scooter.”.
Senate version: https://malegislature.gov/Bills/188/Senate/S1639
“Vulnerable user” means a pedestrian or a person operating a bicycle, handcycle, tricycle, skateboard, roller skates, in-line skates, wheelchair, non-motorized scooter, or any non-motorized vehicle, or a person riding a horse.”
My suggestions for the next session: repeal the motorized scooter section. Add a section for electrically-assisted bicycles, defining power and speed limitation and lighting equipment requirements. Include operators of electrically-assisted bicycles, motorized bicycles and motorcycles in the vulnerable user’s bill.