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The MMA Challenges, "Can the Massachusetts Legislature be held liable for Right-of-Way Violations?"

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Yesterday, the Massachusetts Motorcycle Association (MMA) sent you an opinion piece asking the question, “Can the Massachusetts Legislature be held Liable for Right-of-Way Violations?”  Hopefully by now you’ve had a chance to read it and form your own opinions.  Sadly, since this piece has gone out, there have been more Right-of-Way violations.

Several of you have written thanking us, but it’s important that we consider this
our message from the entire MMA.  If you agree, please consider taking this longer version (attached below) and submit it to your local news as a letter to the editor.  For example, your local town’s “Patch” could be here: http://MyTown.patch.com (replace "MyTown" with the name of yours) – it’s already been submitted to several news outlets, but let’s flood them with this!  The opportunity here is to provoke though and get people to ask the question why our elected representatives are not acting on the obvious will of those who elected them?

Can the Massachusetts Legislature be held liable for Right-of-Way Violations?

It’s the end of June.  The weather is typical New England; Sunny, Rainy, Sunny.  But Motorcycles are out in force, their long winter’s nap concluded, their riders grinning, happy to have the wind in their ears and bugs in their teeth.  Well, most of them.

Unfortunately, with spring and the influx of motorcycles comes the almost daily reports of reckless driving.  In Massachusetts, according to the RMV, 65% of the time that a Motorcycle is involved in a crash with another vehicle, it’s because the other vehicle turned left in front of the Motorcycle.  This violation of the Motorcycle’s Right-of-Way is sadly not atypical driving behavior, but because motorcycles are more vulnerable and need to be balanced, the impact is more severe.

This aggressive driving behavior has GOT TO STOP!

Indeed this past weekend, that impact was felt in Foxboro when an experienced riding couple found the rider dead and his wife in a medically induced coma because of the reckless act of a 20-something repeat offender.  Although charged with Motor Vehicle Homicide, Negligent Driving, and Failure to Yield to oncoming traffic, the driver’s attorney claims this was just an unfortunate accident – the driver never saw the motorcycle.  Really?  How many citations does it take before someone gets the message that they need to step up their attention and driving behavior?

And that’s only 1 Motorcycle Fatality (we hope it doesn’t become 2), out of more than a dozen this year.  Even more disappointing is that this is not uncommon and is a pattern repeating itself not only this year, but year-after-year.

In fact, there have been 5 Motorcycle Fatalities since the bill was formally relegated to “Study” on June 1st, and following the Foxboro Crash, another serious RoW injury in Mashpee within the last week!  And that’s only Motorcycles!  What about Cars?  Trucks?  Bicycles?  Pedestrians?

And yet more tragic, our State Legislature has had ample opportunity to act.  Filed for this general court, the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Transportation has had sitting before it for coming on 2 years, Senate Bill 1797, (An Act relative to increasing the civil fines and financial responsibilities and criminal penalties of motorists who violate the right of way of other motorists, motorcyclists, bicyclists and/or pedestrians, resulting in serious bodily injury and/or death).  Sponsored by Senator Bruce Tarr, this bill has 14 formal co-sponsors, has been endorsed by numerous Chiefs-of-Police, Fire Chiefs, Sheriffs, The Massachusetts Chiefs-of-Police Association, and literally thousands of signatures on petitions submitted to the committee.  Yet after hearings, victim impact letters, and a variety of other appeals, this bill still sits in committee “for further study”.

Why?  Some have claimed that the MBTA and other budget issues are higher priority.  Does the Legislature truly believe that budge issues are higher priority than the safety, wellbeing, and the lives of its citizens?

Ironically, this bill would be no cost to the Commonwealth because it leverages existing law and existing enforcement techniques.  In fact, because it seeks to increase the penalties associated with these infractions, it should increase the funds available to the commonwealth.

In a day when people are now being asked to pay to defend their rights as innocent until proven guilty (through fees associated with challenging citations), you’d think that any opportunity to put more money in the State’s coffers would be welcome.  Apparently not.  Apparently, the backroom politics of the State House takes precedence over the safety of its constituents.  The People’s House?  Or the special interests’ house?

Which has the MMA Board of Directors wondering…  Since the State Legislature has had an opportunity to act for 18 months now, and with the summer hiatus nearly upon us, effectively rendering the rest of the Legislative Session lame, can the State Legislature be held liable for a failure to act?  Could the Joint Committee on Transportation be accountable as a co-defendant for allowing aggressive driving to continue unchecked?  Would make an interesting test case for some attorney willing to try it.

The entire MMA Board of Directors asks you to contact your State Senator and Representative to ask WHY Senate Bill 1797 remains in committee?  You can find their contact information here:

http://www.malegislature.gov/

For More Information, see http://www.massmotorcycle.org/ or contact
SafetyDirector@MassMotorcycle.org

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