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Thursday, May 25, 2023

‘Safe Passing Law’ in Effect in Massachusetts

Last week, cyclists came to Westfield, Massachusetts to take part in a “Ride of Silence” to honor the memories of those who have been injured or killed on public roadways while cycling.  Earlier this year, in an effort to address the increasing number of injured or killed cyclists (not to mention walkers and runners), past Governor Charlie Baker entered the safe passing law.   This law recently went into effect and is applicable to all motorists driving on public roadways in Massachusetts and was made in an attempt to reduce road deaths, which spiked to an 11-year high in 2021 with an estimated 400 road deaths (a number that does not include injuries). 

The law requires drivers to provide at least four feet of space between their vehicle and "vulnerable road users.”  Such vulnerable road users include people walking or running, bicyclists, roadside workers, horse riders and horse-drawn carriages, farm equipment, people using wheelchairs, people using motorized scooters, skateboarders, roller-skaters, and any other similar pedestrian situation.

Additionally, the law states that drivers will have to use a "reasonable speed" when they pass someone and passing drivers are allowed to cross a road's yellow centerline only if it's safe (and they can't go over the speed limit to pass).

The law requires lateral protective devices that block the open space between a large trailer's wheels.  These devices stop bicyclists from getting caught between the rear wheels of a turning truck.  Truck drivers will also need to add backup cameras and more mirrors to mitigate blind spots.  Fines for failure to equip trailers with the new safety features go into effect in 2025.


The new rule does not only put requirements on the drivers, but also bicyclists, who are now required to use rear red lights at night, a rear reflector, and a white headlight, to ensure their visibility on the roads.

The new four-foot passing rule will be taught in drivers education classes to new drivers.

It is not anticipated that this law will be regularly enforced by police so do not expect police officers to be measuring how closely drivers pass the vulnerable road users and give them a ticket if its only two feet of distance.  Where this will likely become applicable is determining liability when there is an accident. 

Massachusetts is a comparative negligence state.  Comparative negligence is used by the court to reduce the amount of damages that a plaintiff can recover in a negligence-based claim according to the degree of negligence each party contributed to the incident.  To better understand this concept, lets take the example of a pedestrian is hit by a vehicle and the pedestrian sues and wins $100,000.00.  In Massachusetts, if it is determined that the pedestrian was twenty precent at fault for the accident, the pedestrian’s $100,000.00 award will be reduced by twenty percent and the pedestrian will only receive $80,000.  Not all states follow this rule, but Massachusetts does.

The new safe passing law will assist finders of fact in determining liability.  This effectively could eliminate questions of “should that runner have been running on the side of the road?” or “did that car need to move over for that skateboarder?”  While comparative negligence can still be argued, violation of the safe passing law will make determining liability in personal injury claims a bit easier (at least until the parties disagree where each other was in the road, of course).

For more information on the safe passing law or M.G.L. c. 90 § 14, please click here:

If you have any questions regarding personal injury claims or the safe passing law, please feel free to contact the Law Offices of Samuel S. Reidy for a free consultation.

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