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Maine Bike Laws

MAINE BICYCLE LAWS

It’s important to know your legal rights (and duties) when bicycling in Maine. It is especially important after a bicycle accident (we call them bicycle “crashes” and explain why here).

For any questions about the State’s bike laws, or about your rights to the road, contact attorney Lauri Boxer-Macomber directly.

Right to the Road

  • Maine bicycle riders generally have the same rights and duties as drivers of vehicles, with some exceptions.

Prohibitions

  • Hitching a ride on a motor vehicle while biking is not permitted.
  • Bicycles may only carry the number of persons for which they are designed.
  • Motorized  bicycles may not be operated at a speed greater than 20mph.

Helmets

  • There is no statewide requirement for helmet for adults, however,  children under sixteen (16) years of age in Maine are required by law to wear a helmet while riding in public.
  • The nonuse of a helmet by the operator of the bicycle or the operator’s passenger is not admissible as evidence in a civil or criminal trial.

Alcohol

  • In Maine, the law that prohibits driving while under the influence of alcohol or other controlled substances is written so that it applies to motor vehicle operators and, therefore, does not directly apply to bicyclists.  However, the analysis does not stop there. If there is admissible evidence of impaired bicycling, a comparative negligence analysis may apply. Also note that Maine’s open container statute does appear to apply to bicyclists.

Where to Ride

  • In Maine, safe positioning on the roadway is highly circumstantial and fact dependent.  There is a Maine statute that requires bicycle riders to ride as far right as practicable in some situations, but that law does not apply when: bicycle riders are riding at the normal speed of traffic for that time and place; bicycle riders feel it is unsafe to ride on the far right portion of the way; when bicycle riders are avoiding immediate or anticipated hazards (e.g. walkers, joggers, piles of sand, debris or garbage, parked cars, potholes, ice patches); when the travel lane is too narrow to be safely shared by a bicycle rider and a motor vehicle; when bicycle riders are in the process of passing or overtaking; when bicycle riders are preparing for a left-hand-turn; when bicycle riders are traveling straight in a place where right-hand-turns are permitted.
  • Maine law allows bicyclists to travel on paved shoulders.

Sidewalks

  • There is no state law that explicitly prohibits bicyclists from riding on sidewalks.  However, sidewalk riding is prohibited in some towns and cities by local ordinance.

Motor Vehicle Doors

  • People may not open the doors of a motor vehicle on the side of moving traffic (including bicycle traffic) unless opening the door is reasonably safe to do and can be done without interfering with the movement of traffic.

Bike Lanes, Bike Paths and Multi-Use Paths

  • In general, even where bicycle lanes, bike paths and multi-use paths are made available to bicycle riders,  bicycle riders still have the right to ride in other portions of Maine ways, particularly when they are avoiding hazards, operating straight where right turns are permitted, and setting up for a left hand turn.  Note, however, that some municipalities may have ordinances that state otherwise.

Left Turns

  • To turn left bicyclists may perform a “box turn” or use the left turn lane.
  • A left turning bicyclist has the right of way over a driver intending to proceed straight at an intersection.

Stop Signs and Traffic Control Devices

  • Bicyclists are required to come to a full and complete stop at all stop signs and comply with traffic control devices.

Signaling

  • Bicyclists must use hand/arm signals when turning and stopping.
  • Bicyclists may return the hand used to signal a turn to their handlebars during the turn to maintain proper control of their bicycles.

Drivers Overtaking Bicyclists

  • Drivers may only pass bicyclists when it is safe to commence and carry out a pass.
  • An operator of a motor vehicle who is passing a bicycle proceeding in the same direction must exercise due care by leaving a distance between the motor vehicle and the bicycle or roller skier of not less than three (3) feet while the motor vehicle is passing the bicycle.  
  • Maine’s 3 foot requirement is a minimum standard. Sometimes more space is required by law as part of an operator’s reasonable duty of care.  For example, drivers who are traveling at high rates of speed, using large vehicles like tractor trailers, who are operating in dangerous weather conditions, and who are traveling on roadways with rough surface conditions arguably have a duty under Maine law to leave additional space because of the impact that their election to pass may have on a bicycle rider.
  • In Maine, the collision of a motor vehicle with a person operating a bicycle is prima facie evidence of a violation of Maine’s safe passing of a bicycle statute.

Bicycles Passing on the Right

  • Bicyclists may pass motor vehicles on the right at their own risk.
  • In the event that a bicyclist’s election to pass on the right results in harm to the bicyclist, comparative negligence–not the doctrine of assumption of risk–applies.

Group Riding

  • The positions that group riders may take on the roadway depends on the circumstances.  See “Where to Ride” section above.
  • The Maine Motor Vehicle and Traffic Code does not have any explicit prohibitions on two or more abreast riding, but some local ordinances do not allow riders to travel two or more abreast on the public ways within their jurisdictions. The enforceability of those ordinances depends on whether they have been properly approved as required by Maine law.

Equipment

  • Lighting and Reflectors.  When a bicycle is used in the “nighttime”, the bicycle must have: (1) a lit front light that emits a white light visible from a distance of at least 200 feet to the front; (2) a red or amber light or reflector to the rear that is visible at least 200 feet to the rear; and (3) reflector material on the pedals, unless the bicyclist is wearing reflective material on the feet or ankles.  Note that the term “nighttime” should not be taken literally and is misleading to readers of the statute. “Nighttime” as defined in the Motor Vehicle and Traffic Code, is “a time other than daytime.” Under the Code, “daytime” means “any time from 1/2 hour before sunrise to 1/2 hour after sunset.”
  • Brake System.  A bicycle must be equipped with a brake sufficient to enable the operator to stop the vehicle or device within a reasonable distance.

Police Inspection of Bicycles

  • A uniformed police officer may stop and inspect a bicycle at any time upon reasonable cause that a bicycle is unsafe or not equipped as required by law.

Electric Assist Bikes

  • Legislation on e-bikes is presently pending before the Maine Legislature.  Right now, Maine law and local ordinances offer little to no direction on which rules of the road apply to e-bikes and where e-bike riders may ride.  Depending on the class, category, specifications, and primary manner that e-bike are used and/or propelled by their riders, the e-bikes may qualify as a “bicycles,” “motorized bicycles,”  “mopeds” or even possibly—but not likely— “vehicles” or a “motorized vehicles.” In some cases, e-bikes may fall under multiple definitions of the Motor Vehicle and Traffic Code, subjecting them to conflicting laws and regulations.  There is also ambiguity in Maine law as to whether e-bikes need to be inspected and/or registered, as well as on whether people need to be licensed to operate e-bikes.

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