Jan 4, 2023 - Politics

What to know about Massachusetts' new traffic law

Photo: David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

One of the last pieces of major legislation to get Gov. Charlie Baker's signature is a new road safety law meant to protect cyclists and others on the road.

Why it matters: Under the new law, drivers need to leave at least four feet of distance to pass a cyclist, pedestrian or smaller vehicle on the road.

  • Drivers will have to use a "reasonable speed" when they pass someone.
  • Passing drivers are allowed to cross a road's yellow centerline only if it's safe, and they can't go over the speed limit to pass.
  • Drivers need to give four feet of space to anyone on the road, including utility workers, tow truck drivers and construction workers.
  • The state will add new road signs to remind drivers of the four-foot rule.

By the numbers: The law aims to prevent road deaths, which spiked to an 11-year high in 2021 at 400.

  • There were 175 deaths in the first half of 2022, according to MassDOT data, and the state has yet to release its year-end tally.
  • Pedestrian deaths rose from 56 in 2020 to 63 in 2021, according to safety advocacy group Vision Zero Massachusetts.
  • Bicyclist fatalities have dropped. Nine cyclists were killed in 2020 compared with six in 2021.

Zoom in: Tractor-trailers will be made safer.

  • The law requires lateral protective devices that block the open space between a large trailer's wheels. The devices stop bicyclists from getting caught between the rear wheels of a turning truck.
  • Truck drivers will also need to add backup cameras and more mirrors to mitigate blind spots.

Yes, but: Enforcement might be spotty.

  • Even the bill's primary sponsor, Belmont Sen. William Brownsberger, admits that tickets handed out for passing closer than four feet will be rare.
  • "It's going to be when a police officer sees somebody sort of buzz a cyclist or just really come too close to an emergency worker or something," Brownsberger told MassLive.

Between the lines: Lawmakers' aim when crafting the law was to include its measures in driver's education requirements so new drivers adopt those behaviors from the start.

What's next: The law, which Baker signed Monday, is already in effect and fines for failure to equip trailers with the new safety features go into effect in 2025.


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