Cyclists may get a little more room for safety if lawmakers pass the road safety legislation Gov. Charlie Baker proposed this week.
On Monday, the Baker-Polito administration filed an expansive road safety package, which among other changes, calls for a new primary seat belt law and a controversial measure allowing cities and towns to install red-light cameras.
One proposal – to be called Haley’s Law – seeks much steeper penalties for drivers who operate with a suspended license. Currently, drivers may face fines and/or up to 10 days in jail for the first offense in Massachusetts per M.G.L. c. 90, § 23.
With the new legislation, a driver who lets their license lapse, then drives could face up to $1,000 in fines and 5 years in prison for the first offense. Drivers who cause auto crashes resulting in serious injury could face up to 2 ½ years in a House of Correction. There would be a mandatory two-year sentence, and up to 10 years imprisonment, for drivers convicted in fatal crashes.
The legislation is called, “An Act Relative to Improving Safety on the Roads in the Commonwealth,” and was filed as Massachusetts re-opens after COVID-19. The pandemic changed everything on our roads. But despite lighter traffic, our roads were not safer last year.
According to state figures, Massachusetts saw 334 traffic fatalities during 2020, compared to 336 in 2019.
Safety Reforms for Massachusetts Cyclists
For cyclists, there are two significant proposals: a 3-foot safe passing distance and a truck sideguard mandate for all state-owned and operated trucks.
3-Foot Safe Passing Distance
When traveling near cyclists, the legislation would require drivers to maintain a three-foot safe passing distance and a safe and proper speed. Drivers would have the same responsibility near cyclists traveling without a protective barrier, such as a protected bike lane with flex posts. 36 other states have safe passing laws, according to the Baker-Polito administration. The proposed legislation would give both drivers and future road projects more direction on how to accommodate cyclists. Massachusetts lawmakers have not acted on similar legislation in previous sessions.
Most drivers know they must stay at least three feet away as a precaution to avoid bicycle crashes. But currently, Massachusetts traffic laws only recognize that drivers must pass cyclists at a “safe distance.” There is no consistent message on how much room to give cyclists.
Massachusetts traffic laws currently state in, “approaching or passing a person on a bicycle the operator of a motor vehicle shall slow down and pass at a safe distance and at a reasonable and proper speed.” M.G.L. c. 90 § 14. Drivers must “wait for a safe opportunity to overtake” a bicyclist or other vehicle, per M.G.L. c. 89 § 2.
Stronger Truck Safety Equipment Requirements
The Baker-Polito administration is calling for state-owned and operated trucks to utilize safety equipment such as sideguards, convex mirrors and cross-over mirrors. All these state vehicles weighing over 10,000 pounds would have to comply by Jan. 1, 2024.
The goal is to reduce the risk of injury and death to pedestrians and cyclists, the most likely victims in truck crashes, according to the Volpe National Transportation Center.
In Boston, we have seen numerous cyclists killed when truck drivers and companies are neglect to look. In 2014, the Boston City Council took strong action, passing the first-in-the-nation truck sideguard ordinance. All city-owned and city-contracted trucks must now be equipped with sideguards, convex mirrors, crossover mirrors and blind-spot awareness decals.
Today, as you drive through Boston, you will see large trucks with sideguards. But Boston – and Somerville and Cambridge have similar regulations – can only influence safety within the city. This is why many – including Breakstone, White & Gluck – support passing statewide legislation requiring sideguards protect cyclists and pedestrians from being swept under trucks. While this proposal would only impact state-owned and operated trucks, this could protect many cyclists and potentially encourage private industry.
Support Truck Sideguards in Massachusetts
MassBike is advocating for the passage of “An Act Relative to Improving Safety on the Roads in the Commonwealth,” which will protect cyclists on Massachusetts roads. If you support the organization’s work, visit the MassBike website and learn how to contact your local legislators and voice your support.
Many drivers have chosen backroads for the past few months. Now, as more people are driving again, we want to caution you to drive safely on Massachusetts highways. Recently, there have been some serious highway crashes, including multi-vehicle crashes.
Our safety tips for traveling on local highways:
Stay in your lane. Unless you have to move, staying in your lane is easier for you and more predictable to other drivers. You are also less vulnerable if another driver speeds up behind you suddenly.
Follow the speed limit. Always watch for the posted speeds. Expect to travel 65 mph on major highways and 55 mph on others. But remember you have a duty to use reasonable care. Driving safely may mean you have to slow down due to weather or traffic conditions to protect yourself and other drivers. You may also have to slow down if you approach a crash scene.
Make safe decisions. When you make bad decisions, you increase your chances of causing a car accident. Two very unsafe decisions are drinking and driving and speeding. On a highway, your dangerous decision is likely to cause far more injuries because of the traffic count and high speed. Think about a game of dominoes, without the game part.
Protect yourself near trucks. Try to avoid traveling right near or behind large trucks. If you must, provide them with ample room to avoid a crash.
Be aware that trucks create wind gusts. Keep both hands on the steering wheel and stay focused on the road.
Back off when a truck driver signals a lane change. On highways, the average truck needs an 8-second gap or 700 feet to change lanes, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. This is the length of 2 ½ football fields.
Give emergency vehicles room to work. In Massachusetts, the Move Over Law establishes that drivers have duty to move out of the way of emergency responders and vehicles with flashing lights. You can be fined $100 if you violate this law. You are also likely to be held financially liable if you cause someone injury or property damage to a motor vehicle or a highway fixture, such as a sign or a guardrail.
Do not use cell phones on highways. Distraction and high speeds are not a safe combination. Avoid cell phone use on highways – or at least go hands-free. Picking up your cell phone to call someone and texting while driving are against the law in Massachusetts.
Recent Highway Accidents in Massachusetts
3-Car Crash Kills Young Girl on Route 6 in Westport. Two drivers collided on Route 6 in Westport on the morning of Sunday, Sept. 13. After assessing the damage, they decided to keep driving and to address the situation after clearing the highway. But as the cars started to move, a Jeep Grand Cherokee slammed into the vehicles, one of which was carrying a 10-year-old girl who was killed and her 9-year-old sister, who suffered serious injuries.
7-Vehicle Crash on I-93 in Dorchester. In late August, news outlets reported a tragic multiple car crash on I-93 in Dorchester, just after 7:30 p.m. According to the Cape Cod Times, a 39-year-old female driver hit a highway barrier and an ambulance, then died from her injuries. She was not the only victim. The crash involved a total of 7 vehicles and several people were transported to receive medical care.
Wrong Way Crash Kills 2 in Brockton. Meanwhile in Brockton, a 30-year-old driver allegedly drove in the wrong direction at 3 a.m. Her Volkswagen Jetta struck a Hyandai Santa Fe, colliding and killing two people inside The Brockton car crash occurred on the Reynolds Memorial Highway and as of August 23, was under investigating by the Plymouth County District Attorney’s office and the Brockton Police. A third driver in a Chevy Tahoe was involved in the crash, but refused medical treatment (Source: NBC Boston).
Littleton Truck Crash on Route 2. In July, there was a very serious crash involving a tractor-trailer and two pick-up trucks on Route 2 in Littleton. Surprisingly, no one was injured in the multi-truck crash. However, emergency crews had to close down the eastbound side of the highway to recover the vehicles.
According to WHDH, emergency responders found the tractor-trailer and one of the pick-up trucks off the road on the guard rail. The other pick-up truck was overturned. Police were investigating the cause of the truck crash, according to WCVB-TV.
Free Legal Consultation – Boston Car Accident Lawyer
If you have been injured by someone’s negligent driving in Massachusetts, contact the lawyers of Breakstone, White & Gluck in Boston to learn your legal rights. If you have been injured in a multi-car highway crash, this is even more important. Highway crashes may involve several drivers and business vehicles or a large truck. The insurance claim process is complex for the individual drivers and passengers involved. As they attempt to find their way, the companies can mobilize quickly to defend their financial interests. It is vital that you act immediately to protect your rights.
It was painful to learn of the New Hampshire truck crash which killed seven motorcyclists and injured three others last weekend. That one crash could injure so many is heart-breaking and we send our deepest condolences to the families.
The horrific accident happened Friday night in the community of Randolph, New Hampshire. The motorcyclists belonged to the Jarheads MC, a motorcycle club for Marine Corps veterans and close friends, according to The Boston Globe. The group was reportedly traveling to their annual meeting eastbound on Route 2 when they were struck by the truck traveling west. Reports said the truck crossed the double yellow line.
By Monday, the driver – a 23-year-old Springfield, Mass. man – had been charged with seven counts of negligent homicide in the case. Massachusetts State Police took Volodoymyr Zhukovskyy into custody at his home. He was then taken to Springfield District Court, where he waived extradition to New Hampshire.
New Hampshire authorities are still investigating the cause of the crash, but there are questions about whether Zhukovskyy should have been driving at all following his arrests on OUI charges last month and back in 2013, according to news reports. Meanwhile, his employer, Springfield-based Westport Transport is said to be cooperating with police.
While this type of collision causing so many injuries is rare, motorcycle crashes are not, especially during the summer in New England. Per mile, motorcyclists are 28 times more likely than passenger car occupants to die in a crash, according to the Insurance Information Institute. In fact, Massachusetts authorities report they have responded to four fatal motorcycle crashes between Saturday night and Monday morning.
Some of the crashes involved a single motorcyclist. This was the case in New Bedford, Belchertown and Andover. But in Westport, a preliminary investigation shows the motorcyclist was traveling westbound on Route 177 when there was a collision with a Ford Ranger turning onto Tickle Road. The driver of the Ford Ranger stayed on the scene and was said to be cooperating with police.
In addition to local authorities, motorcycle accidents should be investigated by an experienced motorcycle crash attorney. In some cases, another driver may not appear to be involved. But drivers who speed, stop short, pass a motorcycle illegally or fail to check their blindspot cause motorcyclists to crash all the time. These are known as no-contact crashes.
When trucks hit motorcyclists, injuries can be more severe as we saw in New Hampshire. Truck companies have a responsibility to train drivers how to operate near motorcyclists. Truck drivers must also take care to properly load vehicles, especially if they are carrying equipment and materials on open open trailers.
At Breakstone, White & Gluck, we urge drivers to observe the following:
- Motorcyclists have the right to operate on the same roads as drivers and must follow the same traffic laws and signals.
- Provide motorcyclists room. Travel several car lengths behind motorcyclists.
- Motorcyclists are permitted to ride two abreast in a lane in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. (Source: The Massachusetts Motorcycle Manual and AmericanMotorcyclist.com).
- Motorcyclist are not permitted to travel between traffic lanes (or split lanes).
- Accidents can happen when drivers fail to look before they turn. In fact, this was the cause of 44 percent of all motorcycle crashes in 2013, according to esurance.com.
- Attempt to make eye contact with motorcyclists at intersections. Many motorcyclists do not have self-canceling turn signals like car and you cannot trust a motorcyclist will turn until you see it.
- Check your mirrors and blindspots often.
- Some drivers have trouble driving in the rain. Expect the same from motorcyclists. Be patient and give them more room.
- Do not speed through traffic lights or make quick unexpected movements at traffic lights and intersections.
- Do not speed on any roads.
- Do not overload trucks and trailers. Secure equipment and materials behind a closed door or under secure ratchet straps, bungee tarp straps or other appropriate equipment.
- Do not attempt to pass motorcyclists unless you must. While you are allowed to do so in Massachusetts, the motorcyclist may not be expecting the move and surprises can lead to accidents and falls.
- Never drive when you are tired; do not drive when you are normally sleeping or getting ready for bed.
- Never drink and drive.
- Remove all distractions from your car, including cell phones. Hold heavy conversation and limit snacks and drinks.
Massachusetts Motorcycle Safety Tips
If you are a motorcyclist, please read our past blog, “Massachusetts Motorcycle Safety Tips.” The article can be a resource if you are just starting to ride, looking to become licensed or have questions about your Massachusetts auto insurance policy.
About Breakstone, White & Gluck
The Boston car accident lawyers at Breakstone, White & Gluck specialize in representing those injured in motorcycle accidents caused by the negligence of other drivers. If you or a loved one has been injured, learn your legal rights for seeking compensation. For a free legal consultation, contact us at 800-379-1244 or 617-723-7676 or use our contact form.
Large trucks are a stress for many Massachusetts drivers, especially on busy routes like the Mass Pike. The most challenging situations are when a truck comes up behind you or when one tries to pass you.
There were nearly 415,000 truck crashes in the U.S. in 2015, injuring more than 116,000 people and killing more than 4,060, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
As phones, cars, drones and apps all make our world smarter and faster, the trucking industry must get smarter too. Let’s be clear: We are not advocating for self-driving trucks, but tools that increase video monitoring, expand the driver’s visibility and provide error warnings are all going to help improve safety.
A new study reports on four advanced safety technologies for trucks. The study, from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, covers:
- Video-Based Onboard Safety Monitoring Systems
- Lane Departure Warning Systems
- Automatic Emergency Braking Systems
- Air Disc Brakes
AAA says these technologies could save up to 63,000 lives per year. For this study, AAA reported on a number of industry studies.
- Video-Based Onboard Safety Monitoring Systems could deploy two cameras. One would record the road ahead and the other would follow the driver’s behavior and performance inside the cab. To provide more thorough monitoring, the study said rear cameras could be added, one to capture the center line of vision and one for each side. According to the data, video monitoring systems may have prevented 38 to 52 percent of large truck safety critical events, 20 percent of large truck fatal crashes and 36 percent of large-truck injury crashes.
- Lane Departure Warning Systems monitor a truck’s position on the road and provide the driver with warning if the truck starts to leave the lane. AAA reviewed 13 studies which found lane departure warning systems were 13 to 53 percent effective in preventing roadway departure, sideswipe, opposite sideswipe and head-on truck crashes.
- Automatic Emergency Braking Systems are designed to prevent trucks from crashing into other cars from behind. The in-vehicle system uses a sensor to look ahead of the truck, then alerts the driver if there is a potential for collision. The driver can use this information to reduce speed or make another driving decision to prevent a truck crash. If the driver takes no action and the system detects a crash is coming, it will take control of the truck’s brakes. AAA reviewed five studies that found automatic emergency braking systems prevent rear-end collisions by 16 to 52 percent.
- Air Disc Brakes can reduce a truck’s stopping distance by up to 30 percent and reduce large truck rear-end collisions by up to 43 percent, according to the reviewed studies. This technology was not widely used in the U.S. for years.
Lower Technology Safety Measures for Trucks
Not every safety measure has to be high tech. Many U.S. cities are considering lower tech truck safety measures. In 2014, Boston approved the nation’s first truck side guard ordinance, requiring city-contracted trucks to use side guards and convex mirrors. Other cities have followed including New York City and Chicago. Meanwhile, the City of Cambridge has equipped its own city trucks with side guards and MassBike, the state’s largest advocacy organization for cyclists, had proposed legislation for a statewide truck side guard law in Massachusetts. But no action has been taken.
Truck side guards block the area below the truck’s cargo, between the wheels, so cyclists and pedestrians cannot get towed under. Read more on truck accidents and injuries to cyclists.
About Breakstone, White & Gluck
If you have been injured, contact the Boston truck crash lawyers of Breakstone, White & Gluck for a free legal consultation. With more than 100 years combined experience, our attorneys have investigated complex truck accidents which have injured drivers, motorcyclists and pedestrians. We have negotiated multi-million dollar awards for our clients. Contact us at 800-379-1244 or 617-723-7676 or use our contact form.