Baker announces new road safety proposals that include cracking down on driving without a seat belt

BOSTON (WHDH) - In effort to improve road safety in Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday filed legislation that would crack down on motorists who don’t wear a seat belt and increase penalties for people who cause personal injury while driving.

The bill, “An Act Relative to Improving Safety on the Roads of the Commonwealth,” includes provisions previously filed by the Baker-Polito Administration in 2019, as well as a number of new proposals.

“These proposals will make Massachusetts roadways and streets safer for all travelers and will help reduce roadway fatalities across the state,” Baker said. “This legislative package builds upon laws enacted in 2019 to prevent and enforce distracted driving, and we look forward to working with our partners in the Legislature to take additional steps to improve road safety.”

If the legislation is approved, law enforcement would be allowed to stop drivers for not wearing a seat belt and communities would be permitted to place red light cameras at intersections and on state-owned roads.

Another section of the bill, “Haley’s Law,” is named after Haley Cremer, a Sharon native who died at the age of 20 after she was struck by a driver with a license that had been suspended three times.

Cremer was jogging down a road in the town in June 2014 when she was fatally struck. The driver who hit her was convicted of only a misdemeanor offense and spent just a couple of years behind bars.

Under the new bill, motorists with a suspended license who are found accountable for fatal crashes would face up to 10 years in prison.

The full list of proposed changes is as follows:

  • Primary Seatbelt: allows law enforcement to stop motorists for not wearing a seatbelt.
  • Haley’s Law: increases penalties for individuals who cause personal injury while driving on a non-administratively suspended license. New provisions would create three levels of new “aggravating factors” to driving while suspended: 1) Driving negligently/recklessly: fine up to $1,000 and up to 5 years in prison; 2) Causing “serious bodily injury:” fine up $3,000 and house of correction up to 2.5 years; and 3) Causing death: fine up to $5,000 and mandatory 2 years to a maximum of 10 years in prison. Current statute simply penalizes for driving while suspended.
  • Traffic Camera Enforcement Local Option: allows localities to place red light cameras at intersections (and the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR)/MassDOT-owned roads that serve as local roads with DCR/MassDOT permission). Cameras would be restricted to collecting photographs only upon a violation and only of the vehicle license plates. Violations would include running a red light and making an illegal turn on a red light.
  • Bicycle Safe Passing: requires a driver to maintain a 3 foot “safe passing distance” and to travel at a speed that is reasonable and proper when passing a bicyclist or pedestrian when there isn’t any physical separation (such as a protected bike lane or curb). Thirty-six other states have “safe distance” requirements.
  • Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) Changes: a refile of previously filed changes to the state’s CDL laws, which include updates to conform to federal law.
  • Crash Data Reporting: proposes adding to reporting requirements crash information involving “a vulnerable user,” a term which would include pedestrians, bicyclists, public works or public safety personnel working in the right of way, individuals on farm tractors, and users of other mobility devices such as scooters and in-line skates. Current statute requires drivers to report any crashes resulting in serious bodily injury, death, or property damage in excess of $1000. This reporting on crashes involving vulnerable users will assist municipalities and state transportation entities to identify problem areas or emerging trends.
  • Side Guards and Additional Mirrors: requires all Commonwealth-owned and operated vehicles over 10,000 pounds to have side guards, convex mirrors and cross-over mirrors. Additionally, all Commonwealth and municipal contractors would be required to have these devices by January 1, 2024. Side guards protect bicyclists and pedestrians from being swept under large vehicles, which can happen, for example, when vehicles are making tight turns at intersections. The convex mirrors complement the side guards.
  • Low-Speed Mobility Device Advisory Working Group: given the growth in use and acceptance of micro-mobility solutions like electric scooters and bicycles, and their unclear status in state law and local regulation, this bill calls for MassDOT to convene an advisory group to recommend a new statutory framework to ensure safe use while encouraging these low-carbon transportation alternatives.

Public Safety Secretary Thomas Turco said that reducing the number of deaths on Bay State roads is a major priority.

“Preventing roadway injuries and fatalities is a priority for all of us at EOPSS,” Turco said. “These common-sense proposals are important to make sure that drivers, passengers, and vulnerable road users like pedestrians and bicyclists can all get home safely.”

Acting Secretary of Transportation Jamey Tesler added, “Crashes due to distracted driving, speeding, and other unsafe driving behaviors, continue to occur on Massachusetts roadways despite reduced driving levels during the pandemic, and these proposals will help refocus and change current driving habits and behaviors to ensure that individuals remain safe.”

In 2020, 334 roadway deaths were reported in Massachusetts.

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