Did you know that Montana is the safest state to commute by bike in the United States? It’s true! And this means that you have plenty of support to keep you safe on the roads and often a very friendly community to bike with. Montana has a Share the Road license plate program with the proceeds going to Bike Walk Montana that helps to advocate for cyclists and pedestrians. However, it’s also very important to understand the bike laws in Montana so that the state can keep its distinction of being the safest state for cyclists. What should you know about the bike laws in Montana?
Bikes on the Road
Bikes are considered to be vehicles, in that cyclists enjoy all the rights and duties that the driver of a vehicle do (except certain circumstances that wouldn’t apply to bikes and cars anyway). When riding on the same road as cars, it is required that bikes are ridden on the right-hand lane of the road, except under the following circumstances:
- When passing another vehicle going the same way.
- When preparing for a left turn at an intersection, private road, or driveway.
- If the right-hand land is a right turn lane and the cyclist isn’t turning right.
- If the right-hand lane is hazardous in some way, such as parked vehicles, pedestrians, animals, narrow lanes, safety hazards, etc.
- If the road is a one-way road with two or more marked traffic lanes.
You will notice that there is one thing missing here that shows up in other states: safe passing. In 2017, legislation was put forward to define a safe distance for drivers overtaking bikes, but this hasn’t been put into the law yet. Much of the safety in passing or where to ride is currently left up to the cyclist to decide, which means that both the driver and the cyclist must be sure they are watching for each other in order to prevent accidents. In fat, cyclists can travel in the driving lane and drivers can cross the double yellow lane when passing cyclists as long as the bike is traveling at less than half the speed limit. Bikes are encouraged to stay on the right, but there’s nothing in the books forcing them to.
Montana does not require that cyclists use the bike lane or bike path where they are provided, but it is required that cyclists ride in single file when riding on the road and only ride two or more abreast where permitted on designated bike paths. Cyclists are also allowed to ride on the sidewalk, as long as the cyclist yields the right of way to pedestrians, give a signal when overtaking and passing a pedestrian, and accepts the same rights and duties that pedestrians have when using sidewalks and crosswalks. Again, it’s worth pointing out that much of the burden of riding safely falls on the cyclist, so keep your wits about you!
Montana does not recognize the Idaho stop law, so cyclists still must come to a complete stop when they get to a red light and if the red light doesn’t change, the cyclist has to wait until it does, regardless of whether the sensor detected the bike or not.
Safety Gear While Riding
There are a few things which the bike must be equipped with for the cyclist to ride safely. Montana law requires that bikes are equipped with functional brakes, a white headlight visible from five hundred feet away when it’s dark, reflective gear that is visible for at least three hundred feet and a red rear reflector or rear tail light. Montana also specifies that pedal reflectors which are either colorless or amber must be installed.
However, cyclists in Montana are not required to wear a helmet while riding, regardless of age. There is a social push to wear a helmet, but nothing on the books about it. Keep in mind though, that municipalities can enact their own laws around helmets. Billings, Montana for example, passed an ordinance stating that riders age sixteen and under must wear a helmet while cycling. It’s important to know the local laws as well as the state laws when riding in Montana to make sure you are good on both sides because all municipalities are allowed to have their own bylaws and ordinances to control cycling and keep people safe.
Montana law does not prohibit riding under the influence of drugs or alcohol. We still wouldn’t recommend it though, for the same reason we would say you should wear a helmet: it’s much safer to ride sober and with a helmet than it is to go without or ride under the influence! It’s illegal to ride while hitched to a moving vehicle and a bike cannot carry more people than there are properly fitted seats for (usually one). Montana also does not have vulnerable road user laws.
Electric Bikes in Montana
Montana does have clear definitions of electric bikes and a few regulations on the book. The state defines an electric bike as a bike with two operational pedals and a motor that does not exceed 500W. Montana allows for a bit faster speed than other states: the motor can propel the bike (unassisted by pedaling) to up to 30mp/h. The motor itself cannot require the use of clutching or shifting. There is not speed limit when pedaling.
There is no requirement for licensing or registration; however, riders under the age of eighteen must wear a helmet. Electric bikes can be ridden on roads, bike paths, and even state park paths.
Montana has some great history with cyclists. It’s considered to be the safest state to commute in and gives a lot of freedom to cities and cyclists to stay safe and enjoy riding. There are plenty of trails, paths, and wide roads to ride and of course, some amazing vistas to enjoy. All in all, Montana is amazing place for cyclists and has some good clean laws to match. Just make sure you keep up to date on your city’s bylaws and keep your eyes on the road. Enjoy!