New state law adds protections for pedestrians and bicyclists

Gov. Charlie Baker has agreed to a new law aimed at making roads safer for "vulnerable users" such as bicyclists, pedestrians, skateboarders and anyone else who is not in a vehicle.

Baker signed the bill (H 5103) Sunday after it gained momentum during the quiet informal sessions that have been held since formal sessions ended on Aug. 1.

The legislation calls for larger vehicles to be equipped with lateral protective devices, additional mirrors and backup cameras. It also requires officials to report information about crashes involving vulnerable road users and allows municipalities to petition to modify speed limits on state highways within their borders.

Baker in September returned the bill to the Legislature with amendments while also expressing support at the time for several components of the bill. The House and Senate rejected the governor's amendments, but made further changes (S 3162) to the bill last week before returning it.

Sen. William Brownsberger has learned firsthand about the topic of the bill by riding his bike from his home in Belmont to his office at the State House. He celebrated the bill's re-enactment on Dec. 27.

"I'm so glad we could get it to Governor's desk again," Brownsberger wrote on his website. "I feel the final bill is as strong as what we originally submitted: It will save lives on the roads."

The bill broadly defines a vulnerable road user as either "a pedestrian, including a person engaged in work upon a way or upon utility facilities along a way or engaged in the provision of emergency services within the way" or "a person operating a bicycle, handcycle, tricycle, skateboard, roller skates, in-line skates, non-motorized scooter, wheelchair, electric personal assistive mobility device, horse, horse-drawn carriage, motorized bicycle, motorized scooter, or other micromobility device, or a farm tractor or similar vehicle designed primarily for farm use." It also authorizes the registrar of motor vehicles to designate "other categories."

In passing a vulnerable road user, according to the bill, "the operator of a motor vehicle shall pass at a safe distance of not less than 4 feet and at a reasonable and proper speed."

The legislation further states that if it is not possible to overtake a vulnerable user or other vehicle at a safe distance in the same lane, "the overtaking vehicle shall use all or part of an adjacent lane, crossing the centerline if necessary, when it is safe to do so and while adhering to the roadway speed limit."

The law requires the Department of Transportation to "erect and maintain signage along public ways necessary to notify operators of motor vehicles of the requirements for passing a vulnerable user from a safe distance."


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