Massachusetts Legislature considering numerous traffic and highway bills

A bill has been filed to provide a free Olympic license plate to gymnast Aly Raisman and other athletes from the state.
A bill has been filed to provide a free Olympic license plate to gymnast Aly Raisman and other athletes from the state. –Gregory Bull/Associated Press

Olympic Gold medalist Aly Raisman will garner her share of parades and keys to the city when she returns home to Needham from the London Games. But do you know what Raisman really deserves? A new license plate.

At least that’s what state Senator James Timilty of Walpole believes. He has filed a bill that would guarantee a free license plate displaying the Olympic rings to any state resident who makes Team USA.

Whether such plates will become a reality is anyone’s guess — the bill has gotten support in the early going, but is a long way from being put to a floor vote. Of course, dozens, if not hundreds, of bills are filed each year calling for changes to our driving landscape, only a fraction of which will actually become law.

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Pass or fail, they provide some interesting reading. There are bills calling for more toll booths — and bills calling for the end of toll booths. There are bills that would repeal the helmet law, and bills that would deny driver’s licenses to school truants.

Want the left lane of the Massachusetts Turnpike to be an HOV lane? Vote for Senate Bill 1766.

Think municipal parking should be free for disabled drivers? Then House Bill 4059 is the bill for you.

Here’s a peek at Beacon Hill’s summer reading list.

Call me, maybe

Will Massachusetts become the 11th state to prohibit drivers from using hand-held cellphones while driving? Attempts to get such a law passed in the past have failed, but they keep on coming.

The Senate Committee on Ways and Means is currently reviewing a hands-free bill (Senate Bill 2127) calling for the same penalties as texting: a $100 fine for a first-time offense, $250 for a second, and $500 for a third. As with texting, breaking the hands-free rule would not count as a moving violation, so your insurance would not be affected.

The National Transportation Safety Board is now calling for a national ban on cellphone use by drivers, so it will be interesting to see whether legislators vote differently this time around.

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There is also Senate Bill 1765, which would make it illegal to use any cellphone, even a hands-free one, when driving in a school zone. I can see the point: with children walking or running into the street, drivers should be extra attentive. At the same time, motorists would have to stop and park their cars to call or text their children if they were nowhere to be found at pickup time.

The bill, it turns out, has been deemed in need of further study.

Caution, seniors

In addition to school zones, what if we had senior citizen safety zones? That’s what Senate Bill 1786 calls for. If passed, communities would be able to post signs on roads outside senior housing facilities, hospitals, and community centers informing motorists that speeding fines are double in such areas.

I have received a number of e-mails from readers who are baffled as to why the speed limit on Route 3 north of Burlington is 55 miles per hour, instead of the standard 65 miles per hour. House Bill 914 would correct that anomaly.

Bills have also been proposed that would double speeding fines when driving in school zones or breakdown lanes (when that is permitted), though they don’t seem to have much traction.

Taking a toll

Ideas abound — I counted at least five bills — about how to improve toll booth operations.

On one end of the spectrum there is Senate Bill 1791, which calls for tolls to be set at 2008 rates and kept there indefinitely. (Some tolls, such as those for the Sumner and Ted Williams tunnels, haven’t changed since 2008 anyway.) People who think we should be increasing toll revenue will probably like Senate Bill 1792, which calls for additional toll booths along our state borders with Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York.

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There is also a proposal, spelled out in House Bill 3634, to discount bridge and tunnel tolls for residents of Route 1-bordering communities north of Boston.

Last — and perhaps best — is House Bill 3082, which could bring the same “open road tolling’’ to Massachusetts that New Hampshire has adopted. With open road tolling, drivers would be able to travel at a normal speed without stopping or slowing down when passing through toll collection points if they have a transponder aboard.

Pick a language

How do you say stop sign in Swahili? Or parallel parking in Mandarin? Most of us don’t have to worry about such questions, but non-English speakers certainly might.

Enter House Bill 3611, which would require the Registry of Motor Vehicles to provide translators for anyone who wishes to take a learner’s permit exam but does not speak English.

“The registrar shall place within all Registry of Motor Vehicle locations signs stating that there are translators available in 48 different languages and that such applicants may ask for assistance by a translator while taking such test,’’ reads the bill, which, strangely, does not say what those 48 languages are.

The bill has not progressed far, but it might be surprising to learn that applicants can already take a written permit exam in 26 foreign languages. They can also take an audio test in Spanish, or on a video screen in Spanish. The road test for driver’s licenses, however, is only in English.

Hearse bling?

Until a few years ago, drivers put their headlights on to indicate they were part of a funeral procession. Then car manufacturers started making headlights that never turned off.

Funeral home directors solved the problem by having drivers put on their hazard lights while in a procession. A bill making its way through the House of Representatives would make that practice official, and, interestingly, would allow funeral homes to display “flashing, rotating, or oscillating purple/violet, amber, and or clear/white lights,’’ on their vehicles.

Flashing headlights, fog lights, and rear-facing red lights would also be permitted.

“Having some type of lead vehicle with a strobe light or an oscillating light, followed by cars in the procession with their hazard lights on, is going to garner much more attention than just a procession where everyone has their headlights on,’’ said David Walkinshaw, spokesman for the Massachusetts Funeral Directors Association, which supports the bill.

He added that there is “no particular reason’’ why purple, violet, and amber lights are specified in the bill. “Other colors are already claimed by different groups,’’ he said.

We’ll have more from the reading list next time.

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