Bicycling and Personal Injury Claims in Montana
Written by Deanna Power, Personal Injury Law
Montana’s roads, highways, and city streets are the territory of bicyclists as well as motor vehicle operators. The Department of Transportation encourages bicycle travel and the state’s bicycle laws aim to protect the health and safety of all citizens on the road.
While most bicycle trips go off without a hitch, crashes do happen, and if you’ve been involved in one, you may be entitled to compensation. An insurance claim or payout of damages from a lawsuit can cover your medical expenses, property damage costs, and other crash-related losses, including pain and suffering.
State Bicycle Laws and Personal Injury Claims
It is critically important to determine who was at fault when handling any insurance or personal injury claim. Bicyclists are required to follow the same rules of the road as motorists in Montana, including riding with traffic rather than against it and adhering to all road signs and traffic signals. They must afford motorists the same clearance and respect as any other vehicle on the road and vehicle drivers are expected to do the same for bicycle riders.
While cyclists must understand and follow general traffic laws, they must also know state and local laws that specifically govern the operation of a bicycle on Montana’s roadways, including:
- Helmet and Safety Seat Laws – There are no state laws requiring bicycle riders of any age to wear a helmet. Billings, Montana is currently the only city to mandate bicyclists of any age to wear a helmet. In Billings, all bicyclists under the age of 16 must wear helmets.
- Bike Lanes, Road Sharing, and Sidewalks – Bicycle riders are encouraged to ride on the right-hand side of the road or in a bike lane whenever safe to do so, though state law allows riding in the travel lane, or to the far left on one-way roads or when making a left turn.
Two bikes per lane are only allowed on bike paths or on roads with multiple travel lanes. Otherwise, cyclists must ride single file. Riders are generally permitted on any road unless otherwise restricted by local laws and the same goes for sidewalks.
- Bicycle Equipment Requirements – State law requires 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 rear tail light
- Passengers and Packages – Bikes are designed to accommodate a specific number of riders and state law requires no passengers above what a bike can safely accommodate. Additionally, bicyclists must ensure they have one hand on the handlebars at all times, even if carrying a package or parcel.
A bicyclist’s or vehicle driver’s failure to follow traffic laws can affect the outcome of a personal injury claim, including who is found at fault for the accident and the amount of compensation the injured party or parties are able to receive.
Montana Personal Injury Claims
If you’re injured in a bicycle accident that involves another vehicle, you may be able to settle your dispute through a claim with the other driver’s insurance company, negating the need for filing a personal injury claim. An insurance company will review all of the available information on the accident, including police reports, hospital bills, and any witness testimony.
An insurance settlement may not be an acceptable or fair amount of compensation to cover your losses, especially if your injuries are severe. An insurance company may deny you the sum you believe you are entitled to. If this is the case, a lawsuit may be necessary.
Under Montana’s statute of limitations, you must file a personal injury lawsuit against a motorist’s insurance company within three years of the date of the accident. Such a lawsuit can potentially cover:
- lost wages,
- pain and suffering,
- loss of future earnings,
- bicycle damage expenses,
- injury-related medical costs,
- and other losses.
Lawsuits for traffic accident claims are filed in the county in which the accident occurred. Here are just a few of Montana’s county court locations:
- Big Horn County – 121 3rd St. W., Hardin, MT 59034
- Gallatin County – 615 S. 16th Ave., Bozeman, MT 59715
- Missoula County – 200 W. Broadway St., Missoula, MT 59802
- Rosebud County – 1200 Main St., Forsyth, MT 59327
- Yellowstone County – 217 N. 27th St., Billings, MT 59101
You can always represent yourself in a civil lawsuit, but a personal injury lawyer’s knowledge and assistance can be invaluable in building and arguing your case, especially if you are unsure how much to claim for any pain and suffering you have endured.
This article was contributed by Personal Injury Law and was not written by an attorney, and the accuracy of the content is not warranted or guaranteed. If you wish to receive legal advice about a specific problem, you should contact a licensed attorney in your area.
61-8-102, MCA. Uniformity of Interpretation - Definitions
“Bicycle” means a vehicle propelled solely by human power on which any person may ride, irrespective of the number of wheels, except scooters, wheelchairs, and similar devices. The term includes an electrically assisted bicycle.
“Bicycle trailer” means a device with one or more wheels that is designed to be towed by a bicycle.
“Electrically assisted bicycle” means a vehicle on which a person may ride that has two tandem wheels and an electric motor capable of propelling the vehicle and a rider who weighs 170 pounds no faster than 20 miles an hour on a paved, level surface.
“Moped” means means a vehicle equipped with two or three wheels, foot pedals to permit muscular propulsion, and an independent power source providing a maximum of 2 brake horsepower. The power source may not be capable of propelling the device, unassisted, at a speed exceeding 30 miles an hour on a level surface. The device must be equipped with a power drive system that functions directly or automatically only and does not require clutching or shifting by the operator after the drive system is engaged.
61-8-320, MCA. 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.
61-8-324, MCA. Overtaking a vehicle on the right
61-8-326, MCA. No-passing zones
(1) The department of transportation and local authorities may determine those portions of a highway in their respective jurisdictions where overtaking and passing or driving to the left side of the center of the roadway would be especially hazardous, and they may by official traffic control devices on the highway indicate the beginning and end of these zones. When the official traffic control devices are in place and clearly visible to an ordinarily observant person, an operator of a vehicle shall obey the directions of those devices.
(2) (a) Except as provided in subsection (2)(b), where official traffic control devices are in place to define a no-passing zone as set forth in subsection (1) an operator of a vehicle may not drive on the left side of the center of the roadway within the no-passing zone or on the left side of a pavement striping designed to mark the no-passing zone throughout its length.
(b) Subsection (2)(a) does not apply to the operator of a faster vehicle passing a bicycle when:
(i) the bicycle is traveling at less than half the posted speed limit;
(ii) the faster vehicle is capable of overtaking and passing the bicycle without exceeding the posted speed limit; and
(iii) there is sufficient clear sight distance to the left side of the center of the roadway to meet the overtaking and passing requirements in 61-8-325.
(3) The provisions of this section do not apply under the conditions provided in 61-8-321(1) or to the operator of a vehicle that is turning left into or from an alley, private road, or driveway.
61-8-328, MCA. Driving on roadways laned for traffic.
61-8-328, MCA. Driving on roadways laned for traffic.
(6) 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.
61-8-338. Method of giving hand-and-arm signals.
(1) Except as provided in subsection
(2), all signals required in this part that are given by hand and arm must be given from the left side of the vehicle by the operator of the vehicle in the following manner: (a) For a left turn, the operator’s hand and arm must be extended horizontally. (b) For a right turn, the operator’s hand and forearm must be extended upward. (c) For a stop or a decrease in speed, the operator’s hand and arm must be extended downward.
(3) The person operating a bicycle may signal a right turn by extending the right hand and arm horizontally.
61-8-601, MCA. Effect of regulations.
(1) It is a misdemeanor for any person to do any act forbidden or fail to perform any act required in this part.
(2) These regulations applicable to bicycles shall apply whenever a bicycle is operated upon any highway or upon any path set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles subject to those exceptions stated herein.
61-8-602, MCA. Traffic laws applicable to persons operating bicycles or mopeds.
A person operating a bicycle or moped is granted all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of any other vehicle by chapter 7, chapter 9, and this chapter except for special regulations in this part or the provisions of chapter 7, chapter 9, and this chapter that by their nature cannot apply.
61-8-603, MCA. Riding on bicycles or mopeds.
A person propelling a bicycle or moped may ride only on or astride a permanent and regular seat attached to the bicycle or moped.
61-8-604, MCA. Clinging to vehicles.
A person riding on any bicycle, coaster, moped, roller skates, sled, or toy vehicle may not attach the conveyance or be attached to any vehicle on a roadway, but a bicycle trailer may be attached to a bicycle.
61-8-605, MCA. Riding on roadways.
(1) A person operating a bicycle on a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic shall ride in the right-hand lane of the roadway, subject to the following provisions:
(a) If the right-hand lane is wide enough to be safely shared with overtaking vehicles, a bicyclist shall ride far enough to the right as judged safe by the bicyclist to facilitate the movement of overtaking vehicles unless other conditions make it unsafe to do so.
(b) A bicyclist may use a lane other than the right-hand lane when:
(i) overtaking and passing a slower vehicle;
(ii) preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway;
(iii) the right-hand lane is a dedicated right-turn lane and the bicyclist does not intend to turn right; or
(iv) it is necessary to avoid a condition that makes it unsafe to ride in the right-hand lane of the roadway.
(2) A person operating a bicycle on a one-way roadway with two or more marked traffic lanes may ride as close to the left side of the roadway as judged safe by the bicyclist.
(3) Persons riding bicycles on a roadway shall ride in single file except when:
(a) riding on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles;
(b) overtaking and passing another bicycle;
(c) riding on a paved shoulder or in a parking lane, in which case the persons may ride two abreast; or
(d) riding within a single lane on a laned roadway with at least two lanes in each direction, in which case the persons may ride two abreast only if they do not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic more than they would otherwise impede traffic by riding single file and in accordance with the provisions of this chapter.
(4) A bicyclist is not expected or required to ride:
(a) over or through hazards at the edge of a roadway, including but not limited to fixed or moving objects, parked or moving vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards, or narrow lanes; or
(b) without a reasonable margin of safety on the right side of the roadway.
61-8-606, MCA. Carrying articles.
A person operating a bicycle or moped may not carry any package, bundle, or article that prevents the person from keeping at least one hand on the handlebars.
61-8-607, MCA. Lamps and other equipment on bicycles.
(1) A bicycle or moped when in use at dawn, dusk, or nighttime must be equipped with:
(a) a lamp on the front emitting a white light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the front. In lieu of a lamp affixed to the bicycle [or moped], a bicyclist may use a lamp with equal intensity and visibility affixed to the cyclist’s helmet and facing forward.
(b) facing the rear, either a lamp emitting a red light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the rear or a red reflector visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the rear when illuminated by low-beam motor vehicle headlamps; and
(c) reflective material large and reflective enough to be visible from the left and right sides from a distance of at least 500 feet when illuminated by low-beam motor vehicle headlamps.
(2) A bicycle or moped must be equipped with a brake enabling the operator to stop the bicycle [or moped] within no more than 25 feet from a speed of 10 miles an hour on dry, level, clean pavement.
61-8-608, MCA, Bicycles or Mopeds on sidewalks and bike lanes.
(1) Subject to the provisions of subsection (3)(b), a person operating a bicycle or moped on and along a sidewalk or across a roadway on and along a crosswalk shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian and shall give an audible signal before overtaking and passing any pedestrian.
(2) A person may not ride a bicycle or moped on and along a sidewalk or across a roadway on and along a crosswalk where the use of a bicycle or moped is prohibited by official traffic control devices.
(3) (a) Except as provided in subsections (1) and (2), a person operating a vehicle by human power on and along a sidewalk or across a roadway on and along a crosswalk has all the rights and duties applicable to a pedestrian under the same circumstances.
(b) A moped may be operated on and along a sidewalk or a bicycle path only under human propulsion and may not be operated on or along a sidewalk or bicycle path if the moped is under power from an independent power source.
(c) A moped may be operated under human propulsion or an independent power source on a highway, in a designated bicycle lane on a highway, or on the shoulder of a highway.
61-8-609, MCA, Bicycle or moped racing -- when lawful.
(1) Bicycle or moped racing on a highway is prohibited except as authorized in this section.
(2) Bicycle or moped racing on a highway is lawful when a racing event is approved by state or local authorities on any highway under their respective jurisdictions. Approval of bicycle or moped highway racing events may be granted only under conditions that ensure reasonable safety for all race participants, spectators, and other highway users and that prevent unreasonable interference with traffic flow.
(3) By agreement with the approving authority, participants in an approved bicycle or moped highway racing event may be exempted from compliance with any traffic laws otherwise applicable if traffic control is adequate to ensure the safety of all highway users.