April 27, 2021
Yesterday, the Baker Administration announced a wide-ranging road safety bill, “An Act Relative to Improving Safety on the Roads of the Commonwealth.” The Massachusetts Vision Zero Coalition had no prior knowledge of this omnibus bill, nor did we have any direct engagement with the administration around its current formation and release. While there are elements of the bill that align with policies the Coalition has long advocated for, there are several pieces of the bill we find deeply troubling.
We are specifically concerned about the elements of the bill that rely on police enforcement and punitive measures that are known to have a disparate impact on Black and brown people. Vision Zero takes a “safe systems approach,” meaning we prioritize planning, engineering, and policy—not policing and punishment—to make streets safer.
The Massachusetts Vision Zero Coalition is opposed to the proposed primary seat belt legislation. While we appreciate the fact that wearing seat belts saves lives in car crashes, the legislation as written relies on police officer-initiated enforcement on our roads, which increases the potential for profiling, harassment, and abuse of Black people and other marginalized groups. In Florida, Black drivers were twice as likely to be pulled over and ticketed for failure to wear a seat belt, according to a 2016 ACLU report.
In Massachusetts, we’re already seeing a racial disparity in how the state enforces a new law against distracted driving. In traffic stops for using a phone while driving between April and December last year, Black, Hispanic, and Asian people were more likely to be issued citations than white people for the same infraction.
We are also concerned about the impacts of the fines and jail time called for in Haley’s Law. As stated above, our Coalition prioritizes a “safe systems” approach to traffic safety rooted in prevention. Research has shown that increasing the severity of punishment is an ineffective deterrent to crime, and often worsens racial and economic disparities. We in no way want to minimize the pain of victims and their families; we too want to remove dangerous drivers from our roads, reduce crashes, and save lives. However, we encourage the administration to explore alternatives focused on prevention and restorative justice to end traffic violence.
There are components of the legislative package that do align with the Vision Zero Coalition’s policy priorities. Some are issues we worked on with the administration in the last legislative cycle, so we’re pleased to see the governor once again elevating them at the State House. They include:
- Requiring a driver to maintain a 3-foot “safe passing distance” for people biking. Thirty-six other states have defined “safe distance” requirements.
- Adding to crash reporting requirements information involving “a vulnerable user,” a term which would include pedestrians, bicyclists, public works or public safety personnel working in the right of way, and others.
- Requiring all Commonwealth-owned and -operated vehicles over 10,000 pounds to have side guards, convex mirrors, and cross-over mirrors.
We also acknowledge that automated red-light camera enforcement was included in the Governor’s bill. However, we support a more robust automated enforcement bill (detailed below) that would go further in managing speed and reducing potential harm to low-income individuals and communities of color.
This session, the Coalition is working closely with partner organizations and members of the legislature to advance several bills that take a comprehensive, equitable, and data-driven approach to street safety. We are eager to work with the legislature and Gov. Baker to pass laws that will save lives and reduce crashes without increasing harmful interactions between people and police, including:
“An Act to reduce traffic fatalities” (HD.1888): an omnibus that bill would require additional mirrors, side guards, and backup cameras for certain trucks and other large vehicles, define vulnerable road users and set a safe passing distance at certain speeds, allow the default speed limit on state-owned roads to be lowered to 25 mph, and create a standardized crash report form for people walking and biking. This bill in particular includes important truck safety regulations and maintains the current law requiring a person biking to use either a rear red light or reflector, instead of adding a requirement to use both a rear red light and a rear reflector; the latter has been proven to lead to racial profiling in other states.
“An Act relative to automated enforcement” (HD.3705, HD.2452, SD.1962): would allow municipalities to opt in to installing cameras that would issue tickets for violations for speeding, failure to stop at a red light, failure to stop at a school bus stop arm, blocking the box, and parking or driving in a dedicated bus lane.
“An Act relative to work and family mobility during and subsequent to the COVID-19 emergency” (SD.273, HD.448): would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, which, in addition to being an important equity measure, has proven to increase safety in other states.
“An Act to End Debt-based Incarceration and Suspensions” (HD.2885,SD.2040): would end debt-based driver's license suspensions, as part of a nationwide movement to stop the criminalization of poverty and break the cycle of debt. Every year, Massachusetts suspends tens of thousands of licenses for reasons unrelated to road safety. It's time to end this.
“An Act relative to traffic and pedestrian stop data” (SD.1892): would require law enforcement agencies to collect and report on data from traffic enforcement stops, in order to analyze and address the prevalence of racial profiling.
“An Act to regulate face surveillance” (HD.3228, SD.2134): would establish meaningful restrictions on racially biased face surveillance. Last year's police reform bill included some modest steps toward this goal, but it didn't go nearly far enough to safeguard our freedoms from this expanding technology.
“An Act relative to traffic stops and racial profiling” (SD.1867): would create a method of automated enforcement for certain traffic laws and remove them from being the reason for a primary traffic stop, and create a task force to review further advances to address racial profiling in traffic enforcement.