May 20 2015

State Senate Votes to Decrease Penalty for Violating 'Headlight Law'

By: Rich Hosford

The Massachusetts State Senate has voted in agreement with the House to lessen the penalty of violating the so-called Headlight Law. 


The vote was an amendment and included as part of the senate’s budget bill and was approved unanimously by the body on Tuesday, reported


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. 


Many Massachusetts residents objected to the surcharge part of the penalty and lawmakers listened. In April the Massachusetts House of Representatives voted to remove the surcharge part of the law. 


At the time Rep. Ken Gordon, who represents Burlington, Bedford and a portion of Wilmington, said he thought the proposed change made sense. 


“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.” 


Before the change in the law becomes official, the House and Senate will need to reconcile their two proposed budgets and Gov. Charlie Baker will have to sign the final bill.


As reported by BNEWS after the House vote, 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.”


A call to Sen. Ken Donnelly, whose district includes Burlington, was not immediately returned as he was on the Senate floor. 

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