Gov. Baker files bill to improve road safety in Massachusetts

Massachusetts News

Legislation filed to Improve road safety

BOSTON (WWLP) – A bill to improve road safety across the Commonwealth has been filed by Governor Charlie Baker.

When the pandemic first hit the roads were clear and people took advantage of that but now as more people begin to around the state Gov. Baker believes it’s time to improve road safety.

Last year, Massachusetts saw 334 roadway deaths despite a major decrease in traffic. According to MassDOT, many of those deaths were caused by excessive speed or erratic driving.

Gov. Baker filed a bill Monday to address that by fining residents for not wearing their seatbelts, increasing the number of officers patrolling the roads, and adding red-light cameras.

“The bill addresses all forms of travel, motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians. Most importantly, it will keep Massachusetts safe and ensure that fewer travelers are killed,” Baker said on Monday.

Baker’s bill would also expand several of the driving laws that are currently in place including the hands-free law, and Haley’s Law which imposes harsh penalties for residents that drive with a suspended license.

Gov. Baker’s bill will need to be approved by the legislature before it can take effect. He’s hoping that they will take swift action to prevent another roadway death.

An Act Relative to Improving Safety on the Roads of the Commonwealth, includes proposals on the following new and previously filed topics:

  • Primary Seatbelt: allows law enforcement to stop motorists for not wearing a seatbelt.
  • Haley’s Law: increases penalties for individuals who cause personal injury while driving on a non-administratively suspended license. New provisions would create three levels of new “aggravating factors” to driving while suspended: 1) Driving negligently/recklessly: fine up to $1,000 and up to 5 years in prison; 2) Causing “serious bodily injury:” fine up $3,000 and house of correction up to 2.5 years; and 3) Causing death: fine up to $5,000 and mandatory 2 years to a maximum of 10 years in prison. Current statute simply penalizes for driving while suspended.
  • Traffic Camera Enforcement Local Option: allows localities to place red light cameras at intersections (and the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR)/MassDOT-owned roads that serve as local roads with DCR/MassDOT permission). Cameras would be restricted to collecting photographs only upon a violation and only of the vehicle license plates. Violations would include running a red light and making an illegal turn on a red light.
  • Bicycle Safe Passing: requires a driver to maintain a 3 foot “safe passing distance” and to travel at a speed that is reasonable and proper when passing a bicyclist or pedestrian when there isn’t any physical separation (such as a protected bike lane or curb). Thirty-six other states have “safe distance” requirements.
  • Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) Changes: a refile of previously filed changes to the state’s CDL laws, which include updates to conform to federal law. 
  • Crash Data Reporting: proposes adding to reporting requirements crash information involving “a vulnerable user,” a term which would include pedestrians, bicyclists, public works or public safety personnel working in the right of way, individuals on farm tractors, and users of other mobility devices such as scooters and in-line skates. Current statute requires drivers to report any crashes resulting in serious bodily injury, death, or property damage in excess of $1000. This reporting on crashes involving vulnerable users will assist municipalities and state transportation entities to identify problem areas or emerging trends.
  • Side Guards and Additional Mirrors: requires all Commonwealth-owned and operated vehicles over 10,000 pounds to have side guards, convex mirrors and cross-over mirrors. Additionally, all Commonwealth and municipal contractors would be required to have these devices by January 1, 2024. Side guards protect bicyclists and pedestrians from being swept under large vehicles, which can happen, for example, when vehicles are making tight turns at intersections. The convex mirrors complement the side guards.
  • Low-Speed Mobility Device Advisory Working Group: given the growth in use and acceptance of micro-mobility solutions like electric scooters and bicycles, and their unclear status in state law and local regulation, this bill calls for MassDOT to convene an advisory group to recommend a new statutory framework to ensure safe use while encouraging these low-carbon transportation alternatives.

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