Baker proposes new seatbelt, traffic camera law
Bill would increase penalties for driving with suspended license
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER on Monday proposed a slew of changes to improve road safety, including enhancing penalties for injuring someone while driving with a suspended license, letting municipalities install red light cameras, and letting the police stop someone for not wearing a seatbelt.
Baker’s bill includes some proposals that are new and others – like the primary seatbelt law – that have previously been ignored by lawmakers. It will now go to the Legislature for their consideration.
The Legislature last addressed road safety when it passed a law, which went into effect in February 2020, banning the use of handheld cell phones while driving. Baker argued that with 334 deaths on the roadways last year, despite decreased traffic due to the pandemic, lawmakers should take another stab at the issue this session. “With more drivers returning to the roads, we need to build on these efforts to keep drivers safe,” Baker said at a State House press conference.
One of the biggest changes proposed in Baker’s bill would be increasing the penalties for someone who drives with a suspended license. He framed the proposal as an update to Haley’s Law, a law passed in 2015 in memory of Haley Cremer, who was killed by someone driving with a suspended license.
Haley’s father Marc Cremer, who has been advocating for updates to the law, said the problem remains that the penalties are low. When the driver who killed Haley – who was driving after his third license suspension – was convicted at trial, the offense was considered a misdemeanor and he received the maximum penalty of two and a half years in jail.
Baker’s bill would establish stronger penalties. Someone convicted of driving recklessly or negligently on a suspended license could face a $1,000 fine and two and a half years in jail. Someone convicted of causing serious bodily injury while driving on a suspended license could face a fine of up to $3,000 and five years in prison. Someone who causes the death of another while driving with a suspended license could be penalized by as much as a $5,000 fine and 10 years in prison. The penalties would only apply to drivers who had their license suspended for a driving offense, not an administrative reason.
Marc Cremer, who spoke alongside Baker at the press conference, said the punishments align with other state statutes – like the one covering drunk driving – and the goal is to create a deterrent so people do not drive with a suspended license.
“The bill is simple, fundamentally fair, and absolutely necessary to help protect the safety of the public,” Cremer said. Someone who drives a car after their license was suspended shows a “complete and blatant disregard for the law of the Commonwealth and the safety of the community,” Cremer said. “Offenders need to know the consequences of their actions will be severe when they cause serious bodily injury or death.”
In the bill, Baker also reintroduced a proposal to let the police stop and ticket someone for not wearing a seatbelt. Traffic safety advocates have been pushing for this policy for years. Today, someone can be ticketed for not wearing a seatbelt only if they are stopped for another offense. In his filing letter, Baker wrote that 34 other states have primary seatbelt laws, which mean someone can be stopped solely for that offense.
Highway Safety Division Director Jeff Larason said Massachusetts has among the lowest rates in the nation of seatbelt use, and states with primary seatbelt laws tend to have higher rates. “Tragically, over half the people killed on the roads in Massachusetts are unbelted,” Larason said. “These are entirely preventable tragedies.”
Advocates have previously raised concerns about racial profiling and selective enforcement if Massachusetts passes a primary seatbelt law. The ACLU has cited data from other states showing that black drivers are more likely than white drivers to be pulled over for seatbelt violations.
Baker wrote in his filing letter that he is “aware of concerns that such a law could be misused or misapplied” and looks forward to working with lawmakers to address those concerns.
The bill also seeks to let municipalities use cameras to enforce red light violations. The cameras would be allowed to capture a vehicle’s license plate only if the car runs a red light, and a fine would be sent to the car’s registered owner. Lt Gov. Karyn Polito said cameras are used in 300 municipalities around the country today and are “instrumental in reducing roadway accidents and deaths.”
Asked about potential racial implications – for example, if cameras are placed only in minority neighborhoods – Baker said officials will be collecting a lot of data that can be used to determine if cameras are being used inappropriately.
The bill would also require cars to maintain a three-foot distance when passing a bicyclist or pedestrian.
It would make some changes to the rules surrounding commercial drivers’ licenses, which Baker previously suggested after a New Hampshire crash in which a truck driver who should have lost his license in Massachusetts killed seven people. The Legislature’s Transportation Committee recommended making some of the changes last session, but the bill was never voted on.Baker is also reintroducing provisions to impose new safety requirements on state-owned trucks. He wants to update the information that must be reported after a serious crash to include impacts on bicyclists and pedestrians. And he wants to create a working group to make recommendations regarding regulating electric scooters and bikes.