On March 13th, MassBike Executive Director, Galen Mook, and State Senator Will Brownsberger, hosted a webinar discussing the new vulnerable road users laws that will go into effect in Massachusetts on April 1, 2023.
The laws include a variety of measures that will increase roadway safety across the commonwealth. Senator Brownsberger noted that this legislative win has been in the works for the past ten years and was a testament to the collaborative efforts of legislators and advocates. Mook provided an overview of the new laws and fielded a robust Q&A from participants.
You can view the webinar on the MassBike YouTube Channel and check out the Vulnerable Road Users Laws webinar slides. Below you will find an excerpt from our Massachusetts Vulnerable Road Users Laws One-Pager and the most pertinent questions from our Q&A session.
Massachusetts Vulnerable Road Users Laws Overview
What is a Vulnerable Road User?
Massachusetts now defines “vulnerable user” on our roads to include:
- People walking and biking
- Roadside workers
- People using wheelchairs
- Motorized bicycles, scooters, skateboards, roller skates, and other micromobility devices
- Horse riders and horse-drawn carriages
- Farm equipment
Future policies and guidelines can be created with vulnerable road users in mind.
Safe Passing | Who is this for: Motorists
Drivers will need to provide a “safe passing distance” of at least 4 feet when passing vulnerable road users. Massachusetts is the 36th state to define safe passing as at least 3 feet.
Motorists are explicitly allowed to cross a double-yellow line in order to pass “when it is safe to do so and adhering to the roadway speed limit.”
MassDOT is required to put up signage to this effect across the commonwealth and will work in collaboration with municipalities to do so on public roadways.
Rear Red Light Requirement | Who is this for: Bicyclists
A new requirement for use of rear red lights at night will go into effect to ensure cyclists are visible on our roadways. Bicyclists will now be required to use a front white light and rear red light and rear reflector when riding at night.
Police officers cannot use a light violation as a reason to stop a bicyclist. The lack of lights cannot be used as “conclusive evidence of contributory negligence” in a civil action, for instance when making an insurance claim.
Safer Speed Limits | Who is this for: Municipalities
The process for municipalities to alter speed limits in thickly settled areas from 30 mph to 25 mph both on state-controlled roads and on the roads they control has been clarified.
This is an update on the previously implemented Chapter 90, Section 18, giving authority to local jurisdictions to create safer roadways in their communities.
Crash Reporting | Who is this for: Police Departments
To improve statewide data collection surrounding vulnerable road user crashes, a standardized analysis tool will now be used to report crashes and incidents involving a person biking or walking. Standardized crash reporting will allow us to systematically measure, report, and track crashes which allow us to make data-informed changes that increase roadway safety.
Truck Safety Devices | Who is this for: Municipality/State Agency Contracting Trucks
State-contracted trucks that are class 3 or 10,000+ lb will be required to be equipped with “lateral protection devices” (safety side guards), convex and cross-over mirrors, and backup cameras to reduce fatalities of people walking and biking.
This requirement will reduce some of the tragic right-hook fatalities that we’ve seen in recent years. The registrar shall also prohibit aftermarket accessories that obstruct visibility or endanger vulnerable users.
How will this new bill get out to the driving public?
We need to let everyone using our roads know about these new laws, and we need your help! Please use our Massachusetts Vulnerable Road Users Laws One-Pager to spread the word to your local municipalities, police departments, bike shops, and advocacy networks.
MassDOT will be implementing signage across the commonwealth. We highly recommend that municipalities work with MassDOT to get signage on their local roadways. We also suggest that municipalities include information in excise tax letters or other direct communications with vehicle owners.
Can information about the 4-ft passing law be shared among registered driving schools in the Commonwealth?
MassBike anticipates that these new laws will be included in the next RMV manual update and will be taught in driving schools statewide.
Will there be printed materials available?
MassBike is working on educational materials! You can print our Massachusetts Vulnerable Road Users Laws One-Pager.
We also have a limited number of free bumper stickers you can request, just fill out our 4-Foot Passing Bumper Sticker Request Form. Please let us know what other educational materials would be most helpful!
What about a bill that makes video footage acceptable for prosecution even if no police officer observed the transgression?
There is still legislative work to be done in Massachusetts around automated enforcement and MassBike is working with our coalition partners in support of these efforts, however, those bills address enforcement from municipalities and the State at fixed locations to cover only certain infractions. For civilians using video footage as evidence of motorists passing closer than 4’, we assume that in a civil court, video footage can be allowed and reviewed.
Does the bill resolve any issues regarding the legal ambiguity of Class 3 e-bikes?
These new laws do not address Class 3 e-bikes, but no matter what type of e-bike you ride, you are considered a vulnerable road user. Included in the vulnerable user language is the term “motorized bicycle” which covered mopeds and other faster electric bicycles not otherwise classified in RMV regulations. MassBike is working on future legislation to clear up the laws around Class 3 e-bikes, you can learn more at www.massbike.org/ebikes
Does the 4-ft rule apply to all roadways?
Yes! The mandatory 4-foot passing law applies to all roadways across the commonwealth.
How does the 4-ft passing work on narrow or shared streets where there physically isn’t enough space to accommodate that distance?
The law specifically allows drivers to cross a double yellow line where it is safe to do so in order to provide 4 feet of distance. However, if it is too narrow to provide 4 feet, drivers should wait to pass until they can provide the mandatory distance.
Can municipalities modify to include pedestrian graphics for the 4-ft passing signage without MassDOT consultation?
This is under discussion at MassDOT, we encourage municipalities to reach out to MassDOT to see what signage would be allowed! The 4-foot passing is for all vulnerable road users, not just people on bicycles.
Are cycling groups allowed to ride in a double file and, if so, will the signage campaign make drivers aware that this is allowed and that they are still required to pass safely if they encounter a group?
Yes, cyclists can ride side by side but should yield to allow faster-moving vehicles to pass. This was codified in 2008 through legislation.
Rear Red Light Requirement
Does this require shops to sell new bikes with lights?
No, this law requires bicycle riders to be compliant while riding at night and does not put the onus on retailers. But we expect that all bike shops will support education around this new requirement and let customers know that when riding at night they must have both a front white light and rear red light.
Any specifications re: rear red lights (i.e. lumens/watts/size)?
There are no specific lumens, watts, or size, merely that bicycles must be equipped with white front and red rear lights, as well as reflectors. However, per prior statute, your lights both front and rear must be visible from a distance of at least 600 feet.
What about areas that are not thickly settled?
Yes, a municipality may petition to modify the speed limit on a state highway within their geographic boundaries, this is not limited to “thickly settled” road or that otherwise already have speeds set by the state.
Where is there info on the new process for requesting reduced speed limits?
The statute can be found in MA General Laws Chapter 90 Section 18.
Is rescinding a Special Speed Regulation on roadways under municipal jurisdiction?
Yes, cities and towns may rescind Special Speed Regulations on roads under their jurisdiction. A written request must be sent to MassDOT Highway's Traffic and Safety Engineering Department ([email protected]) with the limits of each road where the special speed regulation is to be removed.
When approval is granted, the town must remove all speed limit signs associated with the rescinded regulations and erect any signs where applicable. At this point th roadways will be governed by the municipally accepted statuary speed limits.
Do you still have to have a speed study to lower a special speed limit?
The laws do not state the need for a speed study, however, the discretion remains with the state agency, which ultimately have authority on rules and regulations governing the use and operation of motor vehicles on their lands. The laws simply clarify that the state agency must respond to any request to modify speed limits that comes from a municipality about state roads within their geography.
Is MassDOT to be allocated additional resources to address speed limit issues coming up from the municipal level?
This bill does not allocate any additional funding to address speed limit issues. However, MassDOT is taking a Safe Speeds approach and is implementing resources to address slowing speeds across the commonwealth. You can see their Safe Speeds toolkit and other recommendations on their website.
Does the legislation account for help with redesigning unsafe streets?
This legislation does not but MassDOT is taking a Safe Speeds approach, which includes re-designing roadways to decrease speeds through infrastructure changes. For example, narrowing roadways by building sidewalks and protected bike lanes.
Standardized Crash Reporting
When will the crash portal be available?
We expect this to be ready in April, 2024.
Who will have access to the crash database?
The crash database will be available to the public.
Will the crash portal show where the top crash locations are?
The public should be able to search the crash database by location, how the database will be set up is still to be determined.
Does the law require reporting of crashes involving non-moving motor vehicles, eg, dooring?
The law states a standardized reporting involving a motor vehicle and vulnerable user, which we assume allows for motor vehicles that are not moving (ie. dooring incident).
Will these crash reports now include crashes that don't happen on public ways, for example, crashes in parking lots and other private ways?
There is no distinction that omits private ways, we assume if a report is filed it will be captured in this database.
Can these crash reports be expanded to include near misses or threats to vulnerable users?
That may be up to a local jurisdiction, if a police officer or other authority decides to file a report based on near misses or threats, however, it must include a motor vehicle and vulnerable user.
Truck Safety Devices
Is there language we can adapt to truck safety so we can pass it at the municipal level?
Cities like Cambridge and Boston are already implementing truck safety device requirements, we encourage municipalities to implement guidelines for their city/town contracted trucks that align with state guidelines.
Could aftermarket device safety provision be applicable to all MA state-registered vehicles, not just state-owned and contracted, depending on the administration's interpretation?
This statute only applies to trucks that are under contract, or leased or purchased by the Commonwealth. We are continuing to expand the impact of these regulations, including our work at the federal level along with our partners at the League of American Bicyclists.
Is there a way to work with the Insurance Industry to create a monetary incentive for large vehicles to implement safety devices?
We encourage this, though it’s a bit beyond MassBike’s purview, we do align with safety initiatives purported by AAA Northeast and others who represent drivers since safer roads are better for everyone!