Massachusetts low-speed motor vehicle law

It is legal to operate a farm tractor, horsedrawn carriage, construction equipment, bicycle or motorized bicycle (moped) on any public way in the Commonwealth except for limited-access and express state highways. The rules for low-speed motor vehicles are far, far more restrictive, making these unusable for many trips even including short trips. The law is written so as to indicate that the low-speed vehicles, rather than higher-speed vehicles, are hazardous.

Following are the rules on vehicle operation in Chapter 90. Section 1F of the General Laws. The highlighted restrictions do not exist for bicycles:

Every person lawfully operating a low-speed motor vehicle shall have the right to use all public ways in the commonwealth except limited access or express state highways or any public way with a speed limit of more than 30 miles per hour, and shall be subject to the traffic laws and regulations of the commonwealth and the provisions of this section. This shall not prohibit a low-speed motor vehicle from crossing a public way at an intersection where the public way to be crossed has a posted speed limit between 30 and 45 miles per hour, provided the public way the low-speed vehicle is traveling on and the public way the low-speed vehicle is crossing the intersection to both have a speed limit no higher than 30 miles per hour and the intersection is controlled by traffic signals or stop signs. A municipality may, by ordinance, prohibit the operation of low-speed vehicles on a way or a portion of a way within its jurisdiction and under its control, regardless of posted speeds, where it finds that use of the way or a particular portion of the way by low-speed motor vehicles would represent an unreasonable risk of death or serious injury to occupants of low-speed vehicles because of general traffic conditions which shall include, but not be limited to, excessive speeds of other vehicles, traffic volumes, use of the way by heavy trucks or other large vehicles or if the established speed limit on the way increases above 30 miles per hour beyond the point where a low-speed vehicle could safely exit the way. The municipality shall post signs where necessary to provide notice to the public of such prohibited access.

This is Section 1H of the General Laws:

In addition to the types of vehicles that may be registered under chapter 90, the registrar of motor vehicles may issue a registration for a motor vehicle meeting Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards for that particular class of vehicle, other than a low-speed motor vehicle, if the vehicle is designed by its manufacturer to be operated on public ways and its speed on a paved level surface can exceed 30 miles per hour but is not capable of exceeding 40 miles per hour, as may be determined by the registrar. The registrar may adopt reasonable rules and regulations concerning requirements for registration, equipment, inspections and insurance for such vehicles. Every person authorized and registered to operate such a vehicle upon a way shall not operate the vehicle in excess of 40 miles per hour and shall have the right to use all public ways in the commonwealth except limited access or express state highways where signs specifically prohibit bicycles, mopeds or low-speed vehicles have been posted and shall not operate the vehicle on a portion of a way where the speed limit increases beyond 40 miles per hour. This shall not prohibit a vehicle described in this section from crossing a public way at an intersection where the public way to be crossed has a posted speed limit between 40 and 55 miles per hour, provided the public way the vehicle is traveling on and the public way the vehicle is crossing the intersection to, both have a speed limit no higher than 40 miles per hour and the intersection is controlled by traffic signals or stop signs. Such limitations as to the vehicle’s limited use of public ways may be conspicuously printed on the registration certificate of the vehicle by the registrar. The registrar may issue a distinctive registration plate for such vehicle indicating its speed restrictions.

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