April 30 2015

Burlington Traffic Sergeant, State Rep., In Favor of Proposed Penalty Reduction in New Headlight Law

By: Rich Hosford

The Massachusetts House of Representatives is looking to lessen the penalty for failing to the new headlight law and Burlington’s state representative and at least one member of the Burlington Police Department think it’s a good idea. 

As reported by BNEWS, on April 7 a new law went into effect that requires drivers to have their headlight on at any time when visibility is reduced by atmospheric conditions such as rain, snow, fog or anytime when windshield wipers are in use. In short, if a driver has their windshield wipers on, they must also have their headlights on. 

The penalty for failing to comply with law is a $5 ticket. The ticket is also a “surchargeable traffic violation,” meaning it will affect a driver’s car insurance, sometimes up to six or seven years. 

Some members of the Massachusetts legislature criticized the part of the law that would affect resident’s insurance. Boston.com reported that Transportation Committee Chair Rep. William Straus filed a budget amendment that would remove the moving violation designation and on Monday, House lawmakers unanimously approved the change in the law.

The State Senate must now pass its version of the budget and the two will be reconciled together for the governor to sign. House lawmakers are hoping the Senate will agree to include this change in its version of the budget bill, Rep. Ken Gordon, who represents Burlington, Bedford and a portion of Wilmington, said. 

“I think that the law itself is a good law as far as vehicles being more visible during rain events, but we didn’t intend to have such a harsh penalty through the moving violation surcharge,” he said. “I hope that this change becomes law in the next few months.” 

Burlington Police Traffic Unit Sgt. Gerry McDonough also said he thinks the law should be changed. 

He said he thinks the law to require headlight use in adverse weather is good for safety, and he hopes people will abide by it for the simple reason it both increases a driver’s ability to see and to been seen by other motorists. He does now, however, think that driver’s should be punished with a multi-year increase in insurance rates for forgetting to turn on their headlights. 

“Most of our guys will feel better about writing a ticket if it’s not sticking with somebody for 7 years,” he said. “Should someone be penalized for seven years because they forgot to turn on their headlight? Tickets are supposed to be about reinforcing a behavior. There are other incidents that don’t carry an insurance surcharge and I think it’s appropriate that this one of those.”

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