Changes to Montana bicycling laws – Thank you (and please join) Bike/Walk Montana
New laws regulating bicyclists that were passed by the Montana Legislature went into effect at the start of the month.
According to bicycling advocates, the most significant rule change regards old language indicating that bicyclists need to stay as far to the right as is “practical.”
“Drivers often misunderstand and think bicyclists need to be as far right as possible,” said Melinda Barnes, executive director of Bike Walk Montana, a Helena-based nonprofit group. The new law states that bicyclists can stay as far to the right as they feel safety allows. Drivers should know cyclists can move into the lane for myriad reasons: unusable bike lanes; an unusable, narrow or nonexistent shoulder; parked cars; snow and ice; potholes; gravel; and more.
Another important change clarifies that drivers can cross a yellow line to pass a bicyclist, as long as it’s safe to do so and the bicyclist is going at less than half the speed limit.
Both of those changes are intended to prevent accidents in which a bicyclist is struck because a vehicle isn’t providing adequate room when passing, Barnes said. “I also think the language changes were good because of the fact that they brought us up to the national standard, and by doing so, officers can be more uniform and specific when addressing this issue.”
Here are the other new rules courtesy of the bill, sponsored by state Sen. Jeff Essman, R-Billings.
• The new law classifies motorized bicycles as mopeds and not bicycles. These vehicles are now banned from use on sidewalks and bike paths, such as the River’s Edge Trail. Barnes said these vehicles can travel at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour and create a safety risk. She noted that the rule doesn’t apply to electric bicycles with pedal-assist systems.
• Rules for reflectors have been loosened. Now, bicyclists can wear reflective clothing or material that’s visible from the side instead of reflectors on the pedals and wheels. Note that a front light and rear reflector or a light are still mandatory.
• Bicyclists may now use a headlamp on their helmet instead of a light mounted on the handlebars.
• Outdated language about the use of a 6-foot orange flag was removed.
• It also updated old language regarding brakes to specify that bikes need a working brake that can stop within a certain distance.There were some modifications the group pursued that didn’t make it into the final law. One would have required drivers to provide at least of four feet of distance when passing a bicyclist, a rule the group sought the past two legislative sessions.
Another change on Bike Walk’s list would define when drivers must stop if a pedestrian is attempting to cross the street.
In the future, Bike Walk Montana will pursue those changes in addition to an “Idaho stop law,” Barnes said, which would allow bicyclists to yield and come to a rolling stop at an intersection instead a full stop.
The Great Falls Bicycle Club certainly supports that change. Coming to a 2 to 3 mph rolling stop in a neighborhood, or to take a right makes sense for bicyclists. Unlike motorists, bikers have all their senses engaged and fewer impediments to their vision.