RULES OF THE ROAD
by Galen Mook
"One of the most essential parts of riding in traffic is to stay predictable.... Remember, your safety is your responsibility!"
First and foremost, always keep in mind that your bike is a vehicle. Thus, anytime you’re on the road, you have the same rights and responsibilities as all other vehicles on the road (with a few exceptions, detailed in the Massachusetts General Law). Slower vehicles need to ride on the RIGHT side of the lane, though you certainly may use the entire lane if it’s safer to do so.
You’re required to stop at all RED LIGHTS and STOP SIGNS, which only makes sense considering the high majority of crashes occur at intersections. And be extra cautious at intersections for drivers burning that yellow light. Remember, just because it’s green, doesn’t mean it’s safe to go.
Just as driving a car at night without front/rear lights is incredibly reckless and irresponsible, the same can be said for bikers. A white light in front is legally required an hour before dark and an hour after sunrise. This comes down to basic communication, telling folks with lights where you are. So think of lights as a form of communication similar to hand signals, (the same ones taught in the RMV) which are also essential to use when you are changing directions or slowing down.
One of the most essential parts of riding in traffic is to stay predictable. That means riding in a straight line without swerving (except to avoid obstacles), and signaling any sudden movements or turns to the folks behind you. You’ll find one of the most useful tools in traffic is your left turn signal, which is your left arm extended out fully to indicate you are going to be merging left and turning. Of course, any signaling needs to be accompanied with actually looking and checking to make sure the path is clear. Never assume a driver sees you, as many drivers as distracted. Remember, your safety is your responsibility!
Parked cars present a tricky challenge, as drivers may suddenly open their door at any moment, regardless of oncoming bikes or other vehicles. To avoid being “doored” (the term for striking an open car door), be sure to ride 3-to-4 feet away from all parked cars. This may put you closer to the travel lane, but if you remain predictable and steady in your line, a driver behind you will pass with care.
And certainly avoid getting squeezed in by big trucks and buses. If you’ve never seen just how big a truck’s blind spot is, then you aren’t aware that they just don’t see you. NEVER ride parallel to a truck or bus at an intersection, since you won’t see their turn-signal and their wide right turns could easily take you out. Just hang back, and stay in line behind them, and that way you’ll never get squished.
If you choose to ride on the sidewalks, which is legal in many low-traffic non-business districts, remember to do so courteously and slowly, so as to not scare, buzz, or frighten folks. This same idea goes for mixed-use pathways. Joggers, dog-walkers, strollers, and meanderers are not walking on your bike path, but instead are sharing the same limited space with you. Be mindful of everyone else you are riding near, and be aware of how they can be startled by the speed of an oncoming bicycle.