Baker Returns “Confusing” Road Safety Bill

BOSTON (State House News Service) — Governor Charlie Baker has returned to the Legislature a bill designed to reduce traffic fatalities, citing differences over a proposed safe passing distance measure and lower speed limits, but saying he shares with lawmakers a "mutual goal of improving roadway safety."

The Legislature last week shipped the bill (H 5103) to Baker's desk, with supporters saying its measures would improve roadway safety for "vulnerable road users" -- pedestrians, cyclists or anyone on the road who is not in a vehicle. Sen. William Brownsberger of Belmont, who is a longtime proponent of the bill, told the News Service that the bill's measures will "save lives."

Baker returned the bill with amendments late Wednesday afternoon, raising concerns about enforcement and confusing requirements.

The bill mandates a new reporting system for crashes with vulnerable road users, allows municipalities to set a 25 mph speed limit in thickly settled areas on state roads, and requires a three-foot "safe passing distance" between vehicles and vulnerable road users, plus one foot for every 10 miles per hour over 30 mph.

With his amendments, Baker recommended making the safe passing distance, a policy he said he supports, easier to understand. He proposed establishing a consistent three-foot distance requirement.

"As currently written, however, the passing distance formula presents enforcement and messaging challenges that would undermine the goal of a clearly understood and enforceable standard," the governor wrote.

The safe passing distance provision also needs a clarification, Baker said, "to ensure motorists do not mistake this provision as requiring them to cross the center line to overtake other vehicles."

Regarding the crash reporting system, Baker said there is already a public-facing online reporting platform through MassDOT. He said that he believes in "the importance of more accurate reporting of crashes involving vulnerable road users."

Baker proposed striking the allowance for 25 mph speed limits on state roads, citing concerns with stepping into federal jurisdiction, or jeopardizing federal funds to support road and bridge construction in the state.

"Our federal partners are currently undertaking a comprehensive safety review of the [Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices], which will conclude next year with updated requirements for all roadways open to public travel, regardless of jurisdiction," he wrote. "It is prudent for the Commonwealth to implement speed limit and related changes after the federal process concludes to ensure consistency and compliance."

Baker expressed support for several measures in the bill, including requirements that state-owned or state-contracted vehicles include convex and crossover mirrors, backup cameras and lateral protective devices (side guards that can prevent pedestrians and cyclists from being run over by a large truck's rear wheels).

The governor also encouraged lawmakers to consider his own bills (S 7 / H 3706) which feature initiatives to strengthen the penalties for those who injure someone while driving with a suspended license, red light enforcement options, and commercial driver's license safety requirements.

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