By Bob Katzen

Governor Baker has proposed amendments to a bill, sent to him by the Legislature a few days ago, designed to protect “vulnerable road users” which includes pedestrians, construction workers, emergency responders, bicyclists, skateboarders, roller skates and wheelchair users. “[The bill] strengthens traffic safety regulations, making our roads safer and taking critical steps to save lives, and reduce crashes that needlessly put people at risk,” said sponsor Rep. Christine Barber (D-Somerville) when the House approved the bill on September 12 and sent it to the governor. “With an emphasis on enhancing safeguards for pedestrians and bikers, the commonwealth positions itself as a leader in road user safety and promotes alternative modes of transportation.”

A key provision of the bill requires vehicle drivers, when passing a vulnerable user, to pass at a safe distance of not less than 3 feet when the motor vehicle is traveling at 30 miles per hour or less, and an additional foot of clearance for every ten miles per hour that the vehicle is traveling above 30 miles per hour.

Baker said that the passing distance formula presents enforcement and messaging challenges that would undermine the goal of a clearly understood and enforceable standard. “This bill would establish a sliding scale of passing distances depending on the motor vehicles’ speed, which would be confusing for motorists and difficult to enforce for local police,” said Baker, instead proposing an amendment that would establish a consistent three-foot distance requirement.

Other provisions of the measure include establishing a process to lower the default speed limit to 25 mph on state highways and parkways in thickly settled or business districts; requiring higher-visibility mirrors and lateral sideguards on certain state-owned, state-operated and state-contracted trucks; and creating a uniform reporting tool for crashes involving a pedestrian or cyclist..

Baker said he supports several pieces of the bill including the requirement that some state vehicles use higher-visibility mirrors and lateral sideguards. As far as the section creating a uniform reporting tool for crashes involving a pedestrian or cyclist Baker said that there already exists an online reporting public-facing platform and the new section is not necessary.

The amendments are now before the House for consideration.

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