A new road safety law has been passed and signed by former Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker to improve safety for pedestrians, cyclists, road workers, and other vulnerable parties on the road. But what does this mean for motorists and why now? Let us dive into this new law and explain why this is an important step forward for road safety in Massachusetts, what it means for drivers, and key changes you need to be aware of.
The Safe Passing Distance Law
As one of his final acts as governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker signed into law bill H.5103, designed to help make our roads safer for all users, both in motor vehicles and non-motor vehicles. The new law outlines a required minimum distance of 4 feet when passing a vulnerable road user. In addition, drivers must use a “reasonable speed” when passing, not exceeding the speed limit, and are allowed to cross the yellow centerline of the road to allow more space if deemed safe. While unlikely to be strictly enforced, these new changes lay the groundwork for municipalities to reconsider their roadways, current speed limits, and basic protections for vulnerable road users.
What Is A Vulnerable Road User?
In the new Massachusetts Safe Passing Law, the term vulnerable road user is used, but what is a vulnerable road user? The term vulnerable road user is a broad definition to include (but is not limited) to pedestrians, cyclists, road workers, persons operating a wheelchair or mobility device, persons on scooters, skateboards, and individuals operating other non-motorized devices. Essentially, it boils down to road users that are not operating a motor vehicle.
The term vulnerable road user is a broad definition to include (but is not limited) to pedestrians, cyclists, road workers, persons operating a wheelchair or mobility device, persons on scooters, skateboards, and individuals operating other non-motorized devices.
Why Is The Safe Passing Distance Law Important?
The Safe Passing Law was developed in response to an increasing number of vehicle and pedestrian/cyclist collisions across the state, many of which have tragically led to fatalities. In 2021, Massachusetts hit an 11-year high for roadway fatalities, with over 400 deaths due to roadway collisions. In the first half of 2022, more than 175 were recorded, and the trend appeared to indicate that a final count in 2022 would see the year surpassing 2022. These statistics and that rising trend in roadway deaths led the state of Massachusetts to work to address the problem head-on through the development of the Safe Passing Distance Law.
In 2021, Massachusetts hit an 11-year high for roadway fatalities, with over 400 deaths due to roadway collisions.
What Else Does The Safe Passing Law Address?
In addition to the Safe Passing Law outlining that a minimum distance of 4 feet and a “reasonable speed” must be maintained when passing a vulnerable road user, the law also has installed new requirements for tractor-trailers. State-contracted tactor trailers will now be required to install lateral protective devices over open rear wheels to help block the large gap between wheels. These protective devices are intended to prevent vulnerable road users from being caught in this open space between the wheels of a tractor-trailer, specifically when they are turning.
The new law also requires that tractor-trailers install backup cameras on their vehicles. This is, again, to help increase the safety of these large vehicles.
What Do I Need To Know About The Safe Passing Law?
At Deland, Gibson, whenever a new law, like H.5103, is passed, our clients inevitably want to know, how does this impact them? In short, unless you drive a state-contracted tractor-trailer, the passage of the Safe Passing Law is a piece of legislation that one should be aware of and its goal of bringing greater safety to our roads in Massachusetts. For tractor trailers, there will need to be physical modifications to your trailer to increase safety. As our roads increasingly become busier and more congested, laws like the Safe Passing Law work to help protect all of those that share the road.
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