Senate Passes Bill to Improve Traffic Safety & Protect Vulnerable Road Users

BOSTON — The Massachusetts State Senate voted Thursday to pass legislation that aims to create safer streets for all road users. Developed in collaboration with a coalition of bicycle, pedestrian and transportation advocates, S.2570, An Act to reduce traffic fatalities, includes several measures to improve road safety, lessen the severity of crashes, and standardize the collection and analysis of crash data.

The bill classifies several groups, including pedestrians, utility workers, first responders and cyclists, as “vulnerable road users,” and requires motor vehicles to apply a “safe passing distance” of at least three feet when traveling 30 miles per hour or less with an additional foot of clearance required for every 10 miles per hour over 30 miles per hour. Current law only requires motor vehicle operators to pass at “a safe distance and at a reasonable and proper speed.” The bill would further require a vehicle that is overtaking a vulnerable road user to use all or part of the adjacent lane, crossing the center line if necessary, when it cannot pass at a safe distance in the same lane and only when it is safe to do so.

“We need to keep working year after year to achieve a future in which traffic fatalities get as close as possible to zero,” said Senator William N. Brownsberger (D-Belmont), lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate. “This bill will help us move in the right direction.”

“This legislation updates basic protections for pedestrians, cyclists and others who may be on the road, and is a common-sense policy to ensure safer roadways for pedestrians and drivers alike” said Senate President Harriette L. Chandler (D-Worcester). “I am very happy the Senate has passed this legislation.”

“This bill takes an important step in encouraging the use of multimodal transportation to relieve the congestion and reduce our state’s carbon footprint,” said Senator Joseph A. Boncore (D-Winthrop), who serves as the Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Transportation, which advanced the legislative measure forward with a favorable recommendation earlier this year. “Ensuring that pedestrians and cyclists have more protections on shared roads is vital to that end.”

The bill would require certain large vehicles newly purchased, leased or operated pursuant to a contract with the Commonwealth to be equipped with lateral protective devices to eliminate a vehicle’s high ground clearance and the extraordinary risk posed to vulnerable road users, who are susceptible to slipping underneath large vehicles during accidents. Such large vehicles would also be required to utilize convex and cross-over mirrors to increase a driver’s ability to see around their vehicle. These provisions would apply to vehicles purchased or leased by the Commonwealth after January 1, 2019 and to vehicles operating pursuant to leases entered into January 1, 2020.

MassBike congratulates the Senate on the passage of An Act to reduce traffic fatalities,” said Galen Mook, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition. “We have seen too many unnecessary and completely preventable fatalities on our roads, and MassBike believes this legislation provides distinct safety elements for cyclists across the Commonwealth, including defining that vehicles must pass cyclists at ‘a safe distance’ of at least three feet, and requiring sideguards on large vehicles to protect vulnerable road users from the dreaded ‘right hook.’ MassBike is grateful for the collaborative work of Senator Brownsberger and all of the advocacy organizations, and we thank everyone for the continued persistence to protect all cyclists and pedestrians across the state. Though we have not yet finished our work, this bill goes a long way toward the goal of zero deaths on our streets.”

The Executive Office of Public Safety and Security would be required to develop a standardized analysis tool to report crashes and incidents involving a vulnerable road user and maintain a publicly accessible database of such reports to help inform further efforts to reduce traffic fatalities.

WalkBoston is thrilled that the Senate has passed An act to reduce traffic fatalities, which includes elements to immediately improve the safety of pedestrians, bicyclists and all vulnerable road users across the Commonwealth,” said Wendy Landman, Executive Director of WalkBoston. “The data collection and analysis requirement will help communities focus their road safety efforts on the places that need it the most.”

The bill would establish a 25 mile per hour speed limit on an unposted area of state highway or parkway inside a thickly settled or business district within a city or town that has accepted the 25 mile per hour local option, as lower vehicle speeds reduce the severity of crashes. While current law requires persons riding bicycles at night to use a front white light, this bill would also require use of both a red rear light and a red rear reflector when riding at night to improve the visibility of bicyclists.

The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

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7 Comments

  1. Hi Will,

    You mentioned in your email about this that there is a law about hands-free cell phones, S.2103, moving separately through the legislature. I read the text of S.2103 and it’s incomprehensible to me, since it’s mostly “Paragraph foo of section bar shall be amended as follows” with out-of-context sentence fragments and such. Can you give us a high-level idea of what this bill is intended to accomplish?

  2. Interesting. Out here the bikes take up the whole road and do not follow traffic rules. They go through red lights , ride on the wrong side of the road , scream at each other while riding, cut traffic and a multitude of other things and then complain about vehicles.

  3. Wasn’t allowing towns and cities to implement automated traffic enforcement included in the original bill. What happened to that? Drivers will continue to act irresponsibly if there is no enforcement.

  4. Will there be PSAs for this once it becomes law? Without it, it will be worthless because no one will know about this.

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