Gov. Charlie Baker’s road safety proposal includes a range of new rules bolstering existing traffic laws and requiring safeguards to protect pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists from deadly car crashes in Massachusetts.
Baker announced a wide-ranging bill, encompassing a mix of new and refiled proposals, during a news conference Monday morning. The legislation aims to build on a 2014 law named after Haley Cremer, a 20-year-old Sharon woman who was struck and killed by a car around Father’s Day. The driver’s license had been suspended.
The newest proposal calls for enhanced penalties for motorists who drive with a suspended license, particularly those who hurt others while behind the wheel.
“With more drivers returning to the roads, we need to build on these efforts to keep drivers safe,” the Republican governor said Monday, speaking from the State House.
Here’s what you should know about the governor’s road safety proposal:
Haley’s law update
The bill would create harsher penalties for motorists who hurt another driver while driving on a suspended license, particularly a non-administrative suspension.
Those charged with reckless driving under these circumstances would face a fine of up to $1,000 and up to five years in prison. Those charged with causing serious bodily injury could face a fine up to $3,000 and 2.5 years in prison. Those charged with causing death would face a fine up to $5,000 and 10 years in prison.
The 2014 law gained scrutiny in 2019 as the Boston Globe reported the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles failed to “timely notify” police departments of troubled drivers as Haley’s Law requires.
This law doesn’t address that issue. When asked about the reporting gaps, Acting Transportation Secretary Jamey Tesler said the agency fixed that issue last year and that the RMV is notifying police departments “overnight” of problem drivers.
Under Baker’s bill, Massachusetts would let cities and towns install red-light cameras at intersections. The cameras would photograph vehicles that run red lights or make illegal turns.
A 2015 study highlighted racial disparities in who received tickets for traffic violations, based on the race of the driver pictured and the location of the red-light cameras. But Baker said the cameras would only take photographs of vehicles that violate traffic laws and only capture a vehicle’s license plate. He also said the state can collect data to monitor how red-light cameras are used.
“We can collect data based on that to determine whether or not it’s being inappropriately used or being put in certain intersections and not in others,” Baker said. “What we’ve heard from colleagues in municipal government is in intersections where they have lots of crashes, they would like to put this to work, and that’s been the primary reason people have raised it with us at the local level.”
Seat belt requirements
The seat belt provision would let police officers stop drivers for not wearing a seat belt.
Jeff Larason, director of Highway Safety, said Massachusetts ranks 46 out of 50 states for seat belt usage. He projects another 45 lives can be saved in a year if everyone wore seat belts.
“Tragically, over half of the people who are killed on our roads in Massachusetts are unbelted, and these are entirely preventable tragedies,” Larason said.
Distancing from bicyclists and pedestrians
Baker proposes a requirement that a driver stays at least 3 feet away from bicyclists and pedestrians when passing them if there isn’t a barrier, protected bike lane or curb. He also proposed that motorists drive at a “reasonable and proper” speed when passing them.
If passed, Massachusetts would join 36 other states that have “safe distance” requirements, Baker said.
Electric scooter, bicycle review
Electric scooters and bicycles are growing in popularity, but the rules around operating them on Massachusetts roads remain unclear.
Baker’s bill would require the state Department of Transportation to create a working group to review the vehicles. They would be expected to recommend new laws to encourage they are used safely.
Commercial drivers licenses
After a crash involving a West Springfield commercial driver that killed seven motorcyclists, Baker filed a bill to tighten commercial driver’s license requirements. The bill would make anyone applying for a commercial driver’s license to show a history of good driving and would disqualify anyone whose license was suspended over the three previous years.
Volodymyr Zhukovskyy, the commercial driver charged in the crash, had numerous violations on his driving record, including an arrest for driving under the influence in Connecticut a month earlier. The Registry of Motor Vehicles didn’t suspend his license after despite the out-of-state violation that would warrant a suspension.
Nearly two years after the deadly New Hampshire crash, the bill has not come up for debate in the House or Senate. Baker refiled the proposal as part of his road safety bill on Monday.
Crash data reporting
Baker’s bill would require more detailed reporting of crashes that involve a pedestrian, bicyclist, public works employee, public safety official and people operating farm tractors, scooters or in-line skates. The current law requires drivers to report any crashes that result in serious bodily injury, death or more than $1,000 worth of property damage.
Certain state-owned and state-operated vehicles would have to have side guards, convex mirrors and cross-over mirrors to increase the employee’s view while on the roads. The side guards aim to prevent a driver from unknowingly sweeping a bicyclist or pedestrian under the vehicle.
These rules would apply to state-owned vehicles that weigh more than 10,000 pounds.
Under the bill, contractors working for the state or local governments would have to install these devices by Jan. 1, 2024.