Omnibus Bill Hearing

Massachusetts lawmakers heard testimony Tuesday on many bike and pedestrian related bills including the omnibus bill An Act to reduce traffic fatalities (S1905/H2877). Advocates from across the state testified on behalf of the bill emphasizing its greater intentions to serve all that are on our roadways, beyond just bikes.

The legislation sponsored by Rep. David Rogers, of Cambridge, Rep. Jonathan Hecht, of Watertown, and Belmont Sen. William Brownsberger, includes a range of approaches to reducing road deaths, such as a local option for authorizing traffic enforcement cameras, a hands-free requirement for using mobile devices, and improving reporting protocol for crashes that involves people on foot or on bikes.

One of the key components is a safe passing law that would require motorists to give at least three-feet when passing a vulnerable road user. Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Richard Fries stressed that law goes beyond bicycles. He said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration reported highway workers have the second most dangerous job in the country with 700 construction workers struck and killed nationwide in 2015.

"We are losing tow truck drivers - one a week nationwide," said Fries, who also noted law enforcement officers killed in traffic deaths.

The bill would also mandate that when drivers pass cyclists, people on horseback, utility workers and other vulnerable users they keep a distance of three feet when traveling 30 miles per hour, adding another foot of clearance for every 10-miles-per-hour over 30. Fries noted Massachusetts is one of only 10 states that require drivers to pass cyclists at a loosely defined "safe distance." MassBike worked in 2016 to pass a vulnerable users bill and incorporated it into the omnibus bill package for this session.

What’s next?
Now we wait. The bill will go through committees and hearings, continuing along through the process. If it is supported by the Joint Committee on Transportation, it will move forward to Ways and Means where they will determine if there is a cost to the state to enact the bill. We’ll continue to keep you updated throughout the process of this legislative session.

You can read more about the bill here.

Below is the letter of written testimony submitted by MassBike Executive Director Richard Fries:

June 13, 2017

Sen. Thomas McGee,
Chair
Rep. William Straus,
Chair
Joint Transportation Committee 
24 Beacon Street
Room 109-C
Boston MA 02133

RE: SUPPORT FOR S.1905/H.2877 An Act to reduce roadway fatalities

Sen. McGee, Rep. Straus, and Members of the Joint Transportation Committee,

On behalf of thousands of people who ride bicycles in our state, we at MassBike urge you to vote favorably on An Act to reduce roadway fatalities (S. 1905/H. 2877). 

Although our mission is to improve conditions for bicycles, we see this bill as vital for all citizens regardless of their mode of transportation. Roadway crashes, more than 90 percent of which are preventable, have risen so dramatically of late that we believe this be a public health crisis. 

While just 330 Americans have died from acts of terrorism in the past 15 year, we lost 43,000 lives on roads in 2016 alone. We know that 4.3 million Americans require medical attention due to roadway crashes each year. That outnumbers the dead and wounded from every war America has ever fought. Edward Humes Door to Door

MassBike is particularly focused on two components of this bill.

Of greatest importance is the safe passing distance a motorist must provide for any person deemed a “vulnerable user” (Sections 18 and 19). While the majority of states in America require a motorist provide minimum of three feet distance when passing a bicycle rider, we are one of just 10 states that only requires “safe distance” when passing. http://www.ncsl.org/research/transportation/safely-passing-bicyclists.aspx

Given alarming reports of aggressive, impaired or distracted driving today, this is SO much
more than bicycles. Consider the following:

  • Nationwide one police officer on average is killed roadside each month, and this included State Trooper Thomas Clardy, a father of six killed on the MassPike in Charlton in 2016. http://www.moveoveramerica.com/
  • A tow-truck driver is on average is killed every week in America, which included 22-year-old Kevin St. Pierre of Southbridge in 2015,
  • OSHA reports highway and bridge construction to be the second mostly deadly occupation, with a primary cause of death being vehicle strikes. This included
  • Thomas O’Day, 52, killed alongside Interstate 93 by a drunk driver,
  • In 2015 700 construction workers were struck and killed nationwide. 

We at MassBike also believe a second key component of this bill is the need to improve and standardize our crash reporting of incidents that involve bicycles and pedestrians (section 23). The data gathered at such scenes is at best inconsistent, complete or inadequate, and at worst the reporting process is too often completely skewed against the victim, who often is unable to provide adequate information due to medical transport. In countless cases the driver is the only side of the story presented.

We will present written testimony by Lori LeClaire Cooke of Plymouth, who was interviewed by local police despite being severely concussed after a car turned into her. Despite witnesses supporting Ms. Cooke’s story, the police blamed her and relied on her roadside statement of which she has no recollection. She lost six months of work, all of her life’s savings, continues to struggle with executive function, and has no recourse due to a poorly trained police officer.

These stories are too common and too plentiful for me to repeat here. 

If we are to truly have safer streets for all users, we need better data; better response protocol; and better training throughout the Commonwealth.

Again, we urge you to support this bill and recognize the urgency of this matter not just for bicycle riders, but for all roadway users in Massachusetts.

Thank you,

Richard Fries
Executive Director

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