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MMA Safety Alert - New Headlight Law Goes Into Effect April 7th!

Published on 3/31/2015

MMA Safety Alert - New Headlight Law Goes Into Effect April 7th!
The Massachusetts Motorcycle Association would like to remind all riders, their family, and friends, that the new Massachusetts law which requires headlight use when your windshield wipers are operating goes into effect on April 7, 2015. While this may not seem immediately applicable to motorcycles, it’s something to be aware of for several reasons.
In summary, Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 85, Section 15 now states that any vehicle, whether stationary or in motion, must have headlights and taillights turned on between 1/2 hour after sunset to 1/2 hour before sunrise, whenever there is insufficient light or unfavorable atmospheric conditions, whenever the visibility is reduced such that persons or vehicles are not clearly discernible at a distance of 500 feet, or when the vehicles windshield wipers are needed. This new law update is a primary offense and a moving violation. As a primary offense, this means you could be pulled over for not having your headlights on. As a moving violation, if a citation is written, it’s a surchargable offense, meaning your insurance rates will likely go up, and your license will be suspended unless you participate in a driver re-education course if 3 surchargable offenses are obtained within 2 years.
Some vehicles have “automatic” windshield wipers which come on when rain sensors detect water, but the headlights and taillights may or may not operate in conjunction with them. Also, it’s unclear how the law applies to windshield wipers operating when the “washer” is being used, although the "spirit of the law" would require rainfall that decreases visibility. Of course, from a  motorcyclists perspective, our headlights are required to come on with the ignition, and it’s a rarity to have a windshield wiper anyway, so it’s largely moot with regard to directly affecting us as a surchargable offense.
But while we may consider the improved visibility of vehicle headlights being on as a benefit to being seen by other traffic, we must also now concern ourselves with our roadway position to not be hidden by these headlights. For our own safety, consider this – if a vehicles headlights are off, and yours is on, one headlight means oncoming traffic can identify the motorcycle in front of an oncoming vehicle. If a car or SUV’s headlights are on, and yours is positioned directly in front of one of them, the oncoming vehicle may not be able to tell yours from the other vehicle and attempt a left turn in front of the oncoming car. As a precaution, in such conditions, it’s advisable to consider positioning yourself in the lane so you are not blocking the headlights behind you, and that you periodically change lane positions to distinguish yourself from traffic behind and ahead of you.
The Massachusetts Motorcycle Association reminds you to have your headlights and taillights on when driving a vehicle with windshield wipers that are operating, and to consider your lane positioning carefully while riding in such conditions.
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