What is a Public Way?

We hear “public way” all the time, but have you ever wondered what this phrase actually means? Public ways are important in criminal law since many motor vehicle crimes take into consideration if a person is operating on this type of road. Some examples include:

In this post, we will answer some questions many people have about Massachusetts law on public ways. Stay up to date on the latest developments in criminal law with The Law Office of William J. Barabino’s official blog.

What is a public way in Massachusetts?

According to Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 84, Sections 1, 15, & 22, a public way is a way that a city or town in the state has a duty to maintain free of defects.

In other words, any street or highway that is open to the public and is controlled or maintained by the government is a public way. This includes interstate highways, state highways, state roads, and county roads.

What is considered a public way?

Something is typically a public way when it has one or more of these things on it:

  • It is paved
  • It has street lights
  • There are street signs
  • There are curbs
  • There are fire hydrants
  • There are buildings along the street
  • It is publically maintained

Another way of determining if something is a public way is by seeing if the general public has a right of access to it by a motor vehicle. Not all public ways are roads and streets. They could include things like parking lots owned by the town or city.

Lastly, something is a public way if members of the public can access it when invited or licensed. This means that the person who owns the property is allowing people to access it for a special purpose. This could include shopping centers, gas stations, parking lots, and restaurant parking lots.

What is a private way in Massachusetts?

You may notice on some street signs that some streets are “private ways.” There are two major differences between a public way and a private one.

The first has to do with how private ways are created. Unlike public ways, private ways are created based on a request from a private group of individuals. The costs of building the private way go to the person or people making the request, not the town.

Secondly, the city or town has no obligation to maintain a private way, like it does with public ways. However, even though we call these roads “private”, the public still can access them just like they would any public way.

Is a sidewalk a public way?

The answer is, it depends on if and how the sidewalk is connected to a public way. For example, sidewalks that are beside a road that is a public way are considered part of it.

The logic of this has to do with the history of roads. Before cars, roads used to be sidewalks. Since cars, sidewalks have expanded to include space for cars. This means that the original sidewalk is still part of the widened road.

Can I drive down a private road?

As long as you are not trespassing, it is not illegal to drive down a road that is a “private way.” We call private ways “private” because the city or town does not have a responsibility to maintain them. The road itself is open to the public.

IF YOU OR A LOVED ONE HAVE BEEN CHARGED WITH A MOTOR VEHICLE OFFENSE, AND YOU NEED AN EXPERIENCED CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER WORKING ON YOUR SIDE TO PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS, PLEASE CONTACT CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY WILLIAM J. BARABINO.

CALL 781-393-5900 TO LEARN MORE ABOUT YOUR AVAILABLE DEFENSES.

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