Massachusetts Governor Proposes Package of New Road Safety Rules

Gov. Charlie Baker (R) (seen above) unveiled legislation on March 7 that aims to implement a variety of new roadway safety measures, which includes giving the Massachusetts Department of Transportation the authority to establish mandatory temporary lower speed limits in construction zones.

[Above photo by the Massachusetts Governor’s Office.]

“Our roadway safety legislation targets several areas which will have a real impact on improving safety for the traveling public including imposing greater sanctions for operating under the influence and establishing requirements for newly emerging transportation options,” Gov. Baker noted in a statement.

Officially entitled “An Act Relative to Improving Safety on the Roads of the Commonwealth,” the legislative proposal includes:

Photo by Massachusetts DOT
  • A “hands free” electronic device requirement that would not allow anyone operating a motor vehicle to touch or hold a mobile electronic device, except to perform a single tap or swipe to activate, deactivate, or initiate hands-free mode. The bill would permit talking, texting and other tasks to be completed by voice commands and would allow law enforcement officers to better enforce distraction laws.
  • A primary seatbelt law that would allow law enforcement personnel to stop motorists for not wearing seatbelts.
  • Allow MassDOT to establish mandatory temporary lower speed limits in construction zones that would double fines when workers are present. Currently, lower speed limits in construction zones are only suggestions and law enforcement cannot enforce them. The governor noted that 14 workers were killed between 2009 and 2016 on Massachusetts roads.
  • Require all state-owned and operated vehicles over 10,000 pounds to have side guards, convex mirrors, and cross-over mirrors after January 1, 2020; a rule extended to all state and municipal contractor fleets by January 1, 2022.
  • Rules that would treat electric scooters and other “low speed mobility devices,” the same as bicycles according to existing law. For example, scooter and e-bike operators would need to wear a helmet if under the age of 16, would be required to yield to people walking, need to provide an audible signal when passing, and could not block vehicular or pedestrian traffic when parked.
  • In addition, the law would require MassDOT to establish a “micro-mobility advisory working group” to propose future changes that would ensure the “safe adoption” of “emerging and undefined” low speed mobility devices.

“Emerging micro mobility technologies like electric scooters and increased use of electric bicycles present both opportunities as a complement to current means of transportation and challenges as an industry without any existing statutory framework,” Gov. Baker noted. “As a first step, the administration proposes treating electric scooters and pedal assist electric bicycles the same way bicycles are treated under state law and establishing a multi-party advisory group to recommend more permanent policies.”

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