Today, the House and Senate both passed a bill intended to reduce fatalities among vulnerable road users. There was substantial agreement about this legislation in July, but it didn’t quite make it across the finish line. We were able to finalize it today. I’m so glad we could get it to Governor’s desk: It will save lives on the roads.
The legislation defines vulnerable road users broadly to include construction workers, emergency responders, pedestrians, cyclists — essentially anyone who isn’t inside a vehicle:
“Vulnerable user”, (i) a pedestrian, including a person engaged in work upon a way or upon utility facilities along a way or engaged in the provision of emergency services within the way; (ii) a person operating a bicycle, handcycle, tricycle, skateboard, roller skates, in-line skates, non-motorized scooter, wheelchair, electric personal assistive mobility device, horse, horse-drawn carriage, motorized bicycle, motorized scooter, or other micromobility device, or a farm tractor or similar vehicle designed primarily for farm use; or (iii) other such categories that the registrar may designate by regulation.
The legislation requires that motorists leave a safe distance when passing vulnerable road users:
In passing a vulnerable user, the operator of a motor vehicle shall pass at a safe distance of not less than 3 feet when the motor vehicle is traveling at 30 miles per hour or less, with 1 additional foot of clearance for every 10 miles per hour that the vehicle is traveling above 30 miles per hour.
The legislation allows drivers to cross the center line to achieve adequate clearance.
Truck Safety Devices
The legislation requires trucks to have devices installed to protect vulnerable road users. The act applies to large vehicles that are leased or owned by the commonwealth (starting in 2023) or used under contract with the commonwealth (starting in 2025).
- devices to make it easier for drivers to see vulnerable road users — backup cameras, convex mirrors, cross-over mirrors.
- devices to prevent vulnerable users from coming under the side of the vehicles
Some of the most tragic accidents have occurred when large vehicles started up and could not see people on the street around them. Other tragic accidents have occurred when people have been caught by the sideways sweeping motion of longer trucks when they turn.
While these safety devices should be installed on all large vehicles, we had to limit the scope of the legislation to those with a nexus to the commonwealth to avoid running afoul of the federal constitutional prohibition on state regulation of interstate commerce. Over time, we may be able to somewhat expand the scope. But with this first of group of vehicles, the Registry of Motor Vehicles can sort out regulations. Additionally, MassDOT can study how well the devices are working.
Under legislation passed previously, municipalities may elect to set a 25 mph speed limit in thickly settled areas and business districts.
Notwithstanding section 17 or any other general or special law to the contrary, the city council, the transportation commissioner of the city of Boston, the board of selectmen, park commissioners, a traffic commission or traffic director of a city or town that accepts this section in the manner provided in section 4 of chapter 4 may, in the interests of public safety and without further authority, establish a speed limit of 25 miles per hour on any roadway inside a thickly settled or business district in the city or town on any way that is not a state highway.G.L. c. 90, s. 17C
The current legislation extends the 25 mph limit to state roads and parkways (other than limited access highways).
On a state highway, other than a limited access highway, inside a thickly settled or business district located in a city or town that has accepted this section, the department shall establish and post a speed limit of 25 miles per hour. On a parkway inside a thickly settled or business district located in a city or town that has accepted this section, the department of conservation and recreation shall establish and post a speed limit of 25 miles per hour.
To improve our understanding the causes and locations of crashes involving vulnerable road users, the legislation requires MassDOT to develop a reporting system for those crashes. The reports are to be published in an accessible database.
. . . the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, in consultation with the department of public health and the executive office of public safety and security, shall develop a standardized form to report crashes and incidents involving a motor vehicle and a vulnerable user, as defined in section 1 of chapter 90 of the General Laws. In developing the standardized form, the department shall consider best practices in reporting crashes and incidents involving vulnerable users, including the Federal Highway Administration’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Crash Analysis Tool.
Rear Red Lights
For cyclists, the legislation adds a new requirement for use of rear red lights at night. The final bill includes the following compromise language to mitigate the possible effects of that requirement.
The provisions of this paragraph related to front and rear lighting shall be enforced by law enforcement agencies only when an operator of a bicycle has been stopped for some other offense, A violation of this paragraph related to rear lighting shall not be used as conclusive evidence of contributory negligence in any civil action.
. . .
The Executive Office of Public Safety and Security shall within one year report the results of a study of the implementation of this bill focusing on racial, gender and geographic disparities if any.Sections A2 and 13A of H5103 as amended by Senate amendments 3 and 4
There will be little enforcement of this new rule on the street, but we may hope that bike stores will advise their customers..
This legislation reflects over ten years of collaboration with the goal of reducing traffic fatalities. It has evolved substantially over that time. A bill with a long history has many contributors. An early version was filed in 2011 by Representative Sean Garballey. The most recent effort has additionally included Representative Mike Moran (the lead House sponsor), Transportation Committee Co-chairs Senator Brendan Crighton and Representative Bill Straus, the Baker administration, members of the Vision Zero Coalition (including MassBike, the Boston Cyclists Union, Walk Boston, Livable Streets and others), Representatives Kipp Diggs, Dan Hunt, Dave Rogers, and Tommy Vitolo, and Senators Cindy Creem, Joanne Comerford, Lydia Edwards, and Adam Hinds. Appreciation to all of them, to House and Senate Leaders, and to many others unnamed. For more of this long history, browse the “Rules of the Road” thread on this site.
The effort to improve traffic safety is, of course, vastly broader than this bill. Much more remains to be done on many different levels. This bill does represent the second part of an informal three-part agenda discussed a decade ago. The top priority was the hands free cell phone bill that we passed in 2019. The remaining priority is authorization of automated traffic enforcement. That bill bogged down in March 2020 as COVID hit. Automated enforcement is controversial, but I’m hopeful that additional effort may yield a consensus framing for it.