Montana Rules of The Road – Where Are Cyclists Allowed?

Spring is fast approaching. When the snow begins to melt in the coming weeks you will start to notice people biking in Montana and sharing the roadways. This, in turn, is sure to reignite the ongoing debate between motorists and cyclists over who rules the road.  Over the course of our decades of experience in representing motorcycle and auto accident victims, one thing is certain – seemingly everyone has their own interpretation of the Montana Bicycle law.

When the average motorist sees a person riding a bicycle on the road, there is often confusion and uncertainty as to the rights the cyclist has and the proper way to pass the individual. Motorists should know that cyclists have every right to be on the road with motorists and that honking or swerving toward cyclists can cause serious bodily injury.  By the same token, every bicycle on the road must follow the same traffic laws as motorists. It is imperative that motorists learn how to properly and safely share the road with cyclists to avoid causing catastrophic injuries.

In January of 2017, the legislature recently attempted to clarify the bicycle law and create safer roads through several pieces of proposed legislation. One helpful piece of legislation seeks to define a safe passing distance for drivers who overtake bicyclists.  However, there are several harmful bills that are also being considered.  One bill would require an orange flag for all bicycles.  Another proposed bill would ban cyclists on all two-lane highways where there is no paved shoulder. These pieces of legislation are broadly overreaching and have been met with resistance from Montana residents and cycling advocacy groups who believe this legislation would adversely affect tourism and recreational opportunities for local residents.  Given the public outcry these proposals have generated, there is some hope the legislature will reject these efforts to restrict bicycles usage in Montana.  

Regardless of one’s opinion about the current legislation being proposed, there is no debate that bicycle traffic accidents are a big safety problem in the United States.  Thousands of traffic accidents are caused each year due to negligent drivers and/or negligent cyclists. In 2013 alone, accidents involving cyclists and motorists claimed 743 lives in the US and over 48,000 were reported injured.

Current Montana Bicycle Law

For any accident, it is important to identify who is at fault. When a driver is attempting to pass a cyclist in the state of Montana, they must follow the Montana State Bicycle Law.

61-8-320. The Right-of-Way for Bicycles.

(1) The operator of a motor vehicle may not:

(a) intentionally interfere with the movement of a person who is lawfully riding a bicycle; or (b) overtake and pass a person riding a bicycle unless the operator of the motor vehicle can do so safely without endangering the person riding the bicycle.

(2) The operator of a motor vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to a person who is riding a bicycle within a designated bicycle lane.

In 2015, Montana traffic laws were amended to allow cyclists to travel in the driving lane and to allow motorists to cross the double yellow lane when passing bicyclists so long as the bicyclist is traveling less than half the speed limit. This legislation has helped improve safety for bicyclists and the shared use of roads and highways in Montana.

The code mentions that cyclists must be lawfully riding their bicycles. Again, a person operating a bicycle in the state of Montana must adhere to the same rules and road regulations as a motorist (stopping at stoplights, indicates turns, etc.)  Though bicycles are encouraged to remain on the right-hand side of the road and in bike lanes, when available, cyclists have the right to be anywhere in the travel lane. In addition, Montana State law requires that every bicycle has the following safety equipment:

  • Functional brakes
  • A white headlight, visible from 500 feet away when it’s dark (dusk and dawn)
  • Reflective gear visible for at least 300
  • A red rear reflector or a rear tail light

Concerning bike lanes

61-8-328, MCA. Driving on roadways laned for traffic – A motor vehicle may not be driven or parked in a bicycle lane that is signed and delineated as a bicycle lane by official traffic control devices.

Concerning Helmet Regulations

Even though it is incredibly important for all bicyclists to wear helmets, state law does not mandate the use of helmets for bicyclists of any age.  However, some cities, such as Billings, Montana have passed ordinances for children ages 16 and under to wear helmets while bicycling.

For more details concerning the Montana rules of the road and current bicycle laws, click here.

Involved in an accident caused by a negligent motorist or cyclist?

In any situation where a motorist passes a cyclist who is lawfully sharing the roadway and the motorist proceeds to put the cyclist in harm’s way resulting in injury, the motorist will be held civilly liable and could possibly face criminal charges. The injured person’s medical expenses, property damage, and other damages should be covered by the negligent party’s insurance company.

If you or someone you know has been involved in a bicycle or auto related accident, you may be entitled to compensation through a personal injury claim.  It is important to know that under the Montana statute of limitations for bodily injury claims resulting from bicycle accidents and auto accidents, you have to file your case within 3 years of the accident date. It’s also important that you have an experienced Montana personal injury lawyer at your side through this complicated process. Contact the law offices of Hoyt & Blewett today for a free consultation.