Massachusetts

New Mass. Law Requires Drivers to Move Over When Passing Cyclists and Pedestrians

A law now in effect in Massachusetts requires drivers to keep at least four feet away from vulnerable people like pedestrians and bicyclists

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The rules of the road are changing in Massachusetts.

New legislation now in effect means drivers must give at least four feet of space while passing cyclists, pedestrians and other vulnerable groups with whom they share the road.

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Galen Mook is the executive director of MassBike, a group that's been working to push legislation like this through the State House for the last decade. He says the law isn't focused exclusively on cyclists.

"Not just people on bikes, but people who are walking people doing roadside repairs people in wheelchairs, equestrians," he said. "This is not geared towards police going out with a tape measured saying, 'Is this four feet, is this not four feet.'"

Instead, he says the goal is to help change mindsets and start shaping behavior.

Mike Woods says he bikes everyday and that while safety changes are good, he knows he has to do his part.

"We can't make everyone follow the rules, so we have to have self responsibility," he said.

But others, like John St. Amand, question how it will be rolled out.

"The problem I have with enforcement of it is what do you do in tight situations where that might not even be an option?" St. Amand asked.

"It's important we have this tool to keep the roadways safe," Beverly Police Chief John Lelacheur said.

He says having that set four-foot distance mark makes it easier to enforce.

"What it's going to do is help us in followup investigation," he said. "If a cyclist is struck or pedestrian is struck, there's a clear definition now that a vehicle has to be four feet away."

The new legislation will also allow drivers to cross double yellow lines if needed to create that safe passing distance. It is something Claire Pocius says may make it easier when trying to adhere to the rules in tight urban settings.

"I never thought about that, but maybe it's a way to lessen some of the punch points around the city," Pocius said.

"Our goal is really about reframing how we treat each other on the roads," Mook said. "And for motorists to realize there are different classes of people sharing our public ways."

MassDOT is expected to add signage across the state to help let drivers know about the change. MassBike says this now makes Massachusetts just the third state in the U.S. to implement a four-foot safe passing distance regulation.

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