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governor-baker-hoc-november-21-2017In advance of the Thanksgiving Holiday and travel period, Governor Charlie Baker today joined Transportation Secretary and CEO Stephanie Pollack to highlight a package of new and existing legislative proposals to promote safety on Massachusetts roadways, including support for pending legislation to reduce distracted and impaired driving and new legislation improving workplace safety in construction zones, while providing law enforcement the flexibility to keep impaired drivers off the roads.

“During the holiday season, millions of people will travel across the Commonwealth to be with loved ones, and we are making it a priority to keep the roads safe,” said Governor Baker. “We encourage everyone to travel safely and limit dangerous behaviors like distracted or impaired driving. To give law enforcement and officials the tools to increase enforcement, we are pleased to highlight a series of bills that could make a difference in road safety for all.”

According to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, there were 389 fatalities on Massachusetts roadways in 2016, an increase of 12.8% from the 345 fatalities in 2015. Alcohol-impaired driving fatalities also increased 9.2% from 109 fatalities in 2015 to 119 fatalities in 2016.

Joined by Undersecretary for Law Enforcement at the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security Jennifer Queally, MassDOT Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver and Highway Safety Division Director Jeff Larason at MassDOT’s Highway Operations Center, Governor Baker and Secretary Pollack announced the filing of two new legislative proposals:

  • An Act Promoting Construction Zone Safety: Increases safety in work zones by providing MassDOT the ability and flexibility to set and enforce lower speeds, which can currently only be suggested, through active work sites. Doubles fines for speeding in work zones. (Bill text)
  • An Act Relative to the Admissibility of Evidence in a Prosecution for Operating Under the Influence (OUI): Provides uniform standards for the admissibility of the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) eye test in OUI prosecutions. While scientifically and nationally recognized as a reliable indicator of intoxication levels, and regularly used by law enforcement in Massachusetts and across the country, current state law hinders use in the courts, requiring prosecutors to scientifically establish its validity in each and every case to be introduced as evidence. These gaps can lead to unnecessary, inefficient and unjust outcomes in prosecutions. (Bill text)

Governor Baker also stressed the need for passage of two items pending before the legislature:

  • Filed by the Baker-Polito Administration in June and currently before conference committee in the legislature’s criminal justice reform bills, An Act Protecting the Commonwealth from Recidivist Drunk Drivers (S. 2087clarifies a legal loophole following a recent Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruling to make explicit that people charged with a third OUI offense should be eligible to be held in custody when a judge determines their release would pose a severe danger to the community.
  • Passed by the State Senate, An Act to Prevent Driver Distraction and Motor Vehicle Fatalities (S. 2103) would strengthen and clarify the Commonwealth’s current “hands free” statute and prohibit the use of mobile electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle.

“Our dedicated first responders and highway construction crews work every day to ensure public safety and improve the reliability of road conditions for the millions of people traveling between our communities,” said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. “This legislation encourages responsible and safe driving habits, while holding accountable those who put our work crews, law enforcement, school children and families in harm’s way.”

“The holiday travel season is an important time to talk about highway safety and these legislative proposals are important to reducing a rise in recent crashes,” said Secretary Pollack. “During the Thanksgiving travel period a year ago, there were six fatalities in Massachusetts due to automobile crashes. We look forward to seeing these initiatives take effect with the goal of slowing drivers down, encouraging them to keep eyes on the road and to not get behind the wheel when they are impaired.”

“Over the last several years we have seen an increase in fatal crashes in Massachusetts and around the nation,” said Daniel Bennett, Secretary of Public Safety and Security. “Stronger laws deter unsafe and impaired driving behaviors and help assure that police have the ability to keep our roads safe.”

“We are committed to ensuring the safety of everyone on our roadways, including drivers, passengers, law enforcement officers, and our work crews and contractors,” said Administrator Jonathan Gulliver. “We appreciate the support of Governor Baker and Lieutenant Governor Polito and thank them for their efforts to encourage safe travel and limit unsafe behaviors that place everyone on our roadways at risk.”

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