2018 Road Safety Legislation

When I cycled across the country in 2011, I saw a lot of roadkill.   I was constantly aware that all it would take was one mistake by me or by one of those caffeinated guys in big rigs and I’d look about the same.

On the open road, I developed a profound gratitude towards the tens of thousands of drivers who did not hit me.

The Senate just approved a safety package that would require a clearance of at least three feet for vehicles passing vulnerable road users like highway workers, cyclists and pedestrians.  It would add an additional foot of required clearance for each ten miles per hour of speed.

The package also would mandate side guards on big trucks used by or for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.   We cannot regulate trucks in interstate commerce, but the measure is a start towards reducing the gruesome slide-under accidents that are all too common on urban roads.

The bill includes several other modest measures: better reporting on accidents involving cyclists and pedestrians, lower speed limits on state roads in thickly settled areas (governed by local choice) and a requirement that cyclists have rear red lights (in addition to the already-required white front light and rear red reflector).

The package should help reduce road injuries and I’m hopeful it will also pass the House.

The most important thing we could do to improve safety for everyone is to reduce distracted driving.  I’ve now voted twice now to ban hand-held cell phone use by drivers, but so far that legislation has not made it to the Governor’s desk.

An idea we should keep studying is automated enforcement — red light and speed cameras.  Cameras raise privacy concerns. In other states, municipalities have abused cameras to generate revenue.  Automated enforcement hasn’t gained traction in Massachusetts, but I’m hopeful that, perhaps in the next session, we can develop an approach that works.

I often hear from annoyed drivers and frightened pedestrians calling for licensing of cyclists and registration of bikes.  Their complaints are legitimate: Cyclists tend to continue or swerve when they should simply stop. Starting on a bike can be hard work for tired legs.  Because stopping means starting, subconsciously cyclists hate to stop.

Still, I’m opposed to cyclist licensing.   It wouldn’t be cost-effective. We license drivers and register motor vehicles because of the enormous damage they can do — motor vehicles are vastly heavier and faster than bicycles.  Cyclists often annoy drivers. They often frighten pedestrians. They very occasionally harm pedestrians, but they do a miniscule fraction of the annual damage that motor vehicles do.

There is a conversation that we need to keep having with and among cyclists about road behavior.  In 2008, I helped pass legislation to make it easier to ticket cyclists. Unfortunately, the truth is that urban police rarely have the time to ticket motorists, much less cyclists.  So, it’s more about education.

Cycling and walking are healthy, exhilarating and good for the environment.  I will continue to work to protect cyclists and pedestrians, but also to encourage cyclists to ride responsibly.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

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  1. So cyclists are inconvenienced by the law but because they have covered themselves with (their own version of) virtue they claim they are above the law. Is that the situation?

    Suppose I sent my state income tax to United Way instead of to the state. Would the Commonwealth give me a bye?

    Will, either rescind the law or enforce the law. Letting people purchase get out of jail cards with self-granted virtue points does not pass muster as equal standing before the law.

    IMHO, as always.

    1. Scott, I don’t feel that anyone is above the law and I do favor enforcement. My only point above was that police resources are limited, unfortunately.

      And just because not everyone follows a law is not a good reason to repeal it. By that logic, we’d repeal stop on red for vehicles and there would be chaos.

      Sometimes laws are a little aspirational, but at least they state a standard for most citizens.

  2. Roads should be used to enable mobility. They should be configured and regulated to allow movement and commerce. Beacon Street is an example of devoting too much real estate and regulation to bicycles (and parking) at the expense of mobility. For motor vehicles, Beacon Street is now a no turn on red, one lane street (2 lanes reduced to 1 by delays turning and double parking). It appears the objective is “Vision Zero,” no lives lost. Pursuing that single objective is a lost cause with the trade off being unreasonable traffic delays.

    1. The primary goal of the Beacon Street changes was to reduce a ridiculously high rate of vehicle crashes and injuries by reducing the driving lanes from three to two. (Making the street safer for cyclists was a secondary goal, so they should not be blamed.) When we get the results, we’ll see if improved safety offsets the annoyance of traffic delays.

  3. Accommodating bikes at the price of inconveniencing drivers is not the answer. Also, too many cyclists flagrantly disregard the rules of the road. It doesn’t exactly engender sympathy towards their situation. Same thing with pedestrians and the ridiculous number of crosswalks in the city that screw up already bad traffic.

  4. When Governor Weld made an effort to reinstitute pedestrian right of way in a crosswalk, sometime ago, it may have taken a decade or more for significantly more observance by drivers. Pedestrians could step back onto the curb. Cyclists cannot, and therefore more in danger.

    I would rather persuade and remind drivers of others, unarmored, using the streets. A fine can raise pushback.

    A fine can also represent someone injured or worse.

    1. And, to move more commuters who are coming to all the new commercial development, favor bus lanes on the fixed street space.

  5. I am in favor of protecting bicyclists – cars are bigger, but I also want protection for pedestrians. Cyclists run lights, ride in bike-restricted areas (Comm Mall, Public Garden and Common) and generally seem to think they own the road. I want protected areas for walkers. Keep bikes on the street NOT on sidewalks. And YES license them so I can IDd them when they cut me off!

  6. When the question asks about “penalties” does this mean cash fines? The bike lanes are awkward with parking. It means that when I, as an elderly person, parks that I need to step right out into a traffic lane and that is hazardous. Another problems is that cyclists do not always follow the rules of the road and this creates hazards for drivers. I have needed to brake with not warning because a cyclist ignored a stop sign and cut right across the travel lane. This type of thing can destroy both our lives. The city keeps building at a furious rate with little regard for the traffic and parking these new apartments require making it really difficult for the residents

  7. When I was a bit younger, I did some serious cycling all around Eastern Massachusetts. We have a beautiful state that makes for some gorgeous bike riding. We have a lot to be thankful for!

    That experience leads me to believe that we need to do whatever we can to convince drivers that the road belongs as much to cyclists as to them–and convince cyclists that the rules of the road apply as much to them as to drivers!

    Regarding road safety, years of experience–sometimes very scary–convinces me that the easiest and most important thing we can do to increase the safety of cyclists is to keep the roads in good repair. Potholes that are merely an annoyance for drivers can be a life-or-death matter for cyclists, and when cyclists are forced to the curb or breakdown lane of a road, the precariousness of that location varies enormously depending on whether the sides of the road are in good repair or disintegrating.

    As I’m sure you know, Will!

  8. I don’t think these legislated fixes will have much impact on cyclist, pedestrian or driver safety. To have real impact (in Boston, my focus) we need to change the culture of drivers and cyclists, and more enforcement, which would reinforce culture change. Unfortunately, the BTD refuses to think that way, and continues to tinker with signs and lights and lanes and whatever, to little effect.

  9. NO to requiring a rear bike light.
    YES to banning hand-held cell phone (or any other such device) use.
    NO to automated enforcement (better to put sensing at every busy intersection to have better timing/changing of traffic lights; ‘Big Brother’? No thanks!)
    NO to licensing bicycles (that would only discourage folks from cycling).
    And don’t place the bike lane indicators in the middle of the car lanes!!!

  10. Cars, trucks, motorcycles, buses: drivers must be licensed and pass a written test proving they know the state-created rules of the road; must pass a yearly safety test (lights, brakes, horns, etc.,) for their vehicles; must show a license, often given a hefty fine, and given an insurance increase when stopped for breaking a rule.

    Cyclists over 18 years of age should be required to follow the same set of rules, tests and requirements as the other vehicle operators. This is for their safety, as well as others.

    All concerned must play by the same rules when sharing the same roadways.

    Equal rights must equal equal responsibilities.

    1. How many deaths are caused by cyclists each year in Massachusetts? How many by cars? When those numbers are anywhere near each other, even when adjusted by amount of biking vs. driving, then it would make sense to talk about licensing cyclists. Before that, arguing for licensing is not a good-faith effort to find realistic improvements to how shared civic space are used.

      1. FWIW, cyclists do have to follow essentially the same rules of the road as vehicles, although the licensing and testing requirements are different.

        Licensing is overkill to me. I don’t favor licensing for cycilsts or for pedestrians — although a runner on a sidewalk is almost as much as a menace as a cyclist.

        1. Cyclists do not have to follow the same rules as other vehicles in all states or cities.


          Idaho stop

          According to:


          Advocates for Idaho stop laws argue that they improve safety. Two studies of the Idaho stop show that it is measurably safer. One study showed that it resulted in 14% fewer crashes and another indicated that Idaho has less severe crashes. Similarly, tests of a modified form of the Idaho Stop in Paris “found that allowing the cyclists to move more freely cut down the chances of collisions with cars, including accidents involving the car’s blind spot.”

  11. Enforcement and legislative priorities should address cars, bikes, and pedestrians according to the relative amount of damage they cause and the danger they pose to others.

    Cities will never be good places to drive, particularly Boston, but they are historically well-suited to (and even designed around) walking and are fine for biking, particularly when combined with public transportation and bikeshare. We shouldn’t try to force Boston and other Massachusetts cities to take on more traffic than is safe and healthy, but should work to reduce it as much as possible.

    Also, we should stop the handouts to car owners (free parking, oversized roads, prioritization of car throughput over pedestrian convenience) and put the money saved into public transit and better pedestrian infrastructure.

  12. You’re exactly right about education. Maybe require bike shops to provide a safety introduction, or give a pamphlet with each sale. I think there are too many rules already on both sides, and if they are not enforced then we create a world in which we encourage society to break the rules. I have also been a bike commuter, and the safest way to be in traffic in the 70s was to be out in front visible and decisive, even aggressive. So I am not a fan of bike lanes on smaller roads. The safety zone idea does not take into account bad decisions by bikers such as riding on fresh pond parkway. Some roads should be off limits to bikes, and they should be marked. Of course rail trail conversion will help a lot where possible.

  13. Over several years of commuting from Belmont to the Prudential Center by bike, most of my scariest moments were with distracted pedestrians, who would regularly wander into roadways and across the lanes on the Esplanade shared pathway while talking on phones. I’m not sure whether there are any policy changes that could address this, but we need to find some way to convince pedestrians that they need to take responsibility for the safety of themselves and those around them.

  14. We all tend to notice when someone behaves badly. Bicyclists, like pedestrians and drivers, sometimes behave badly. But there’s a common prejudice toward bicyclists that stems from and also reinforces the false belief that bicyclists are not legitimate road users. Drivers need to be taught that it’s their responsibility to share the road with cyclists, and to check for bicyclists whenever they pull out of a parking space, just as they check for pedestrians and other vehicles.

    Resentment and hostility toward bicyclists, like all prejudices, reinforces labeling inconsiderate, risky and inappropriate behavior as “typical”. The reality is that regular bicyclists generally cycle carefully, are law abiding and know that if a moving car hits them while they are bicycling they are put at serious risk. Licensing them is not a solution. The penalty of being hurt or killed for a mistake is enough, although bicyclists’ reckless behavior should, of course, be penalized, just as other road users are ticketed and fined.

    I’m older than most of the people reading this. I respect bicyclists for trying to save fossil fuels and reduce vehicle congestion while trying to stay fit and healthy. Drivers should feel gratitude that bicyclists, pedestrians and transit users are helping us reduce our dependency on motor vehicles. Unfortunately we are not doing enough fast enough to improve our public transit systems.

  15. agree with all your points- licensing bike riders sounds very impractical – we are having a hard enough time licensing automobile drivers, we shouldn’t add casual riders and children to the lines at the RMV. next would be licensing pedestrians- agree with comments about danger caused by pedestrians but licensing people to walk about doesn’t sound right either… What we need is continuing improvements in bike lanes- Trapelo Road is better, but could have been much better IMHO

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