Should Cyclists Have to Stop at Red Lights in Massachusetts?

In Massachusetts, there was recently a discussion about bicycles and red lights. Specifically, should cyclists be allowed to travel through red lights when it is safe to do so?

Massachusetts law states every person operating a bicycle “shall be subject to the traffic laws and regulations of the commonwealth.” M.G.L. c. 85, § 11B. Cyclists have a responsibility to stop at red lights, just like drivers, whether they are traveling in the traffic lane, bike lane or in other situations. But bicycles and motor vehicles face much different road conditions, even as they travel alongside each other.

There are times when cyclists need flexibility to travel safely. Sometimes yielding, rather than coming to a full stop at a red light, can help a cyclist avoid a serious injury or help the overall flow of traffic on the road.

Traditionally, many Massachusetts police departments have not conducted enforcement. Until last summer, when the Somerville Police Department stopped 198 cyclists and issued written warnings for cyclists, according to NBC Boston. Somerville Police said the effort – funded by a state safety grant – was about education.

This move drew strong criticism in Somerville and across the Boston area, where many ride bicycles and parking is limited. In July, the Somerville City Council approved a measure calling for the Somerville police chief to adopt a policy of de-prioritizing enforcement of cyclists who treat read lights as stop signs when it is safe to do so. This measure was sent to the city’s traffic and parking committee for review.

The measure mentioned the “Idaho Stop,” though one city councilor said the goal is de-prioritization, not to pass a traffic law, because the city has discretion over enforcement.

What is the Idaho Stop Law?

  • Passed in 1982, the “Idaho Stop Law” allows cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs and red lights as stop signs, according to the League of American Bicyclists.
  • Idaho was the only state to pass a law for decades. Since 2017, at least seven other states have passed similar laws. We say similar because most of these states have passed laws allowing cyclists to yield at stop signs, but have not changed laws at red lights, according to a 2023 update from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
  • Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah and Washington all have laws that allow cyclists to yield at stop signs. Just two – Idaho and Oklahoma – have passed laws for both red lights and stop signs.

Stop-as-Yield Laws Associated with Fewer Bicycle Accidents

Massachusetts lawmakers passed vulnerable road user protections into law last December. As a result, drivers must now give cyclists, pedestrians and a list of others at least 4 feet of space when passing. This is a major change for safety.

“Stop-as-yield” laws could be another step for safety. The NHTSA reports these laws are associated with lower rates of bicycle injuries.

In the 1980s, Idaho reported a 14.5 percent decline in bicyclist injuries in the year after the Idaho Stop Law. Decades later, Delaware passed a more limited law allowing cyclists to yield at stop signs. In the first 30 months, there was a 23 percent reduction in bike crashes at stop sign intersections.

Free Legal Consultation – Contact a Boston Bicycle Accident Lawyer

Breakstone, White & Gluck has helped cyclists who have been injured by negligent driving across Massachusetts since 1992. If you have been injured, learn your legal rights for recovering compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages and other financial losses. Our attorneys may also be able to advise you if you have been injured and need to replace a damaged bike. For a free legal consultation, contact Breakstone, White & Gluck at 800-379-1244 or 617-723-7676 or use our contact form.