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Pedestrians, cyclists gain protections with new law meant to reduce traffic deaths

A cyclist passes the ghost bike during a ceremony on Massachusetts Avenue in Boston in July. Family, friends, and fellow cyclists gathered to honor George Clemmer II, 71, of Cambridge, who was killed by a truck earlier that month.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Pedestrians and people traveling on bikes, wheelchairs, skateboards, and others in Massachusetts now have new protections meant to prevent traffic deaths.

On Monday, Governor Charlie Baker signed a bill into law requiring drivers to stay at least four feet away from “vulnerable users” of the road when passing them. The law also requires cyclists to use rear red lights, large state vehicles to have backup cameras and other safety features installed, and gives municipalities the ability to petition to change speed limits on state-owned roads.

Advocates for safe streets have been pushing for the new measures for the last decade.


“We are super excited,” said Galen Mook, executive director of bicycling advocacy group MassBike. “By defining vulnerable road users, we’re setting a standard of how motorists need to behave when they’re sharing public space.”

Vulnerable users are defined by the law as “a pedestrian, including a person engaged in work upon a way or upon utility facilities along a way or engaged in the provision of emergency services within the way” or “a person operating a bicycle, handcycle, tricycle, skateboard, roller skates, in-line skates, non-motorized scooter, wheelchair, electric personal assistive mobility device, horse, horse-drawn carriage, motorized bicycle, motorized scooter, or other micromobility device, or a farm tractor or similar vehicle designed primarily for farm use.”

According to the state’s database, there were 430 people killed in motor vehicle crashes in Massachusetts in 2022, including 10 bicyclists and 99 pedestrians. That’s an increase from 418 people killed in 2021 and 336 in 2019.

This summer, 71-year-old George Clemmer of Cambridge was killed by a truck in Boston on Massachusetts Avenue near Boston Symphony Hall when he was riding his bike. James Borghesani, spokesperson for the Suffolk district attorney’s office, said the crash is still being investigated.


The new requirements for trucks could help prevent similar fatalities, said State Senator Will Brownsberger, a Belmont Democrat, who sometimes commutes by bike. Trucks owned or leased by the state will be required to install devices by 2023 to make it easier for drivers to see vulnerable road users and side guards to prevent cyclists and others from being run over. Trucks contracted by the state must have the same safety features by 2025.

“This is a big step forward,” Brownsberger said. “This will reduce the probability that someone will end up under the wheels of one of those big swinging truck trailers.”

The new four-foot passing rule for vulnerable users will be taught in drivers education classes, Brownsberger said, and travelers can expect to see new street signage about the rule from MassDOT.

Taylor Dolven can be reached at Follow her @taydolven.