The Massachusetts Department of Transportation recorded a total of 315 fatal motor vehicle crashes in 2020, which resulted in the tragic loss of 337 lives. This number marks an increase from the previous year, which logged 297 fatal crashes in which 320 people died. These statistics highlight the need for drivers to remain cautious and vigilant on the road, particularly during times of increased stress, less-than-ideal roadway conditions, and even the volatile behaviors of other motorists. Drivers are also advised to keep in mind the following important details regarding motor vehicle requirements and car accident laws in Massachusetts, as well as the possible lawsuits plaintiffs can file against negligent drivers.
Massachusetts Seat Belt Law
Wearing a seat belt while in a moving vehicle is mandatory for both drivers and passengers in Massachusetts. According to the 2022 Massachusetts Safety Belt Usage Observation Study, the safety belt usage rate for occupants in vehicles with Massachusetts plates was 76.8%, representing a decline of 0.8 percentage points from 2021. In line with this, a significant number of vehicle occupants still need to comply with the state's seat belt laws to help lower the risk of injuries in the event of an accident.
Failure to wear a seat belt can result in a $25 fine, according to Massachusetts General Law (M.G.L.) c. 90 §13A. However, because it is a secondary offense, a driver cannot be pulled over solely for not wearing a seat belt. It is only after a motorist gets pulled over for another reason and is then found to be not wearing a seat belt can a fine of $25 be applied.
Continued efforts to promote and enforce seat belt usage to improve overall driver safety statewide are underway and are being enhanced through two strategies: increasing the average number of citations each officer issues and increasing the number of officers on patrol. Publicity campaigns, such as the widely successful "Click It or Ticket" initiative, are also used to support these measures. Studies have indicated that these enhanced enforcement programs have resulted in an increase in seat belt usage by a median of 16 percentage points.
Though there is a bill that proposes a “seat belt defense” amendment, Massachusetts does not currently allow seat belt violations to be used as evidence against plaintiffs in negligence and personal injury cases. So, if a person over 18 years old is not wearing a seat belt while driving and gets injured in a car accident, their failure to wear a seat belt cannot be used as evidence against them in a lawsuit.
Massachusetts Speeding Laws
Despite the stringent speeding laws governing Massachusetts roadways, a state annual report showed that speeding citations accounted for 23% of all traffic citations in 2021. According to M.G.L. c.90, § 17A, the highest speed limit for motor vehicles traveling on certain interstate highways in Massachusetts is 65 mph, except if it is prohibited by federal law. This speed limit covers the Massachusetts Turnpike on Interstate 90 between the New York state border and the Westfield interchange and from the Ludlow interchange to the Auburn interchange. It also includes Interstate 91 from the Vermont border to Northampton, Exit 21, and Interstate 95 from the Newbury interchange 56 to the Danvers interchange 50.
Penalties are handed down in cases of speeding violations in Massachusetts, and a scheduled civil assessment must be ordered by the magistrate. This assessment typically includes a base fine of $50 in addition to a $50 surcharge, as well as an additional charge of $10 for every mile over 10 mph above the speed limit.
Massachusetts Failure to Yield to Pedestrian Rule
In Massachusetts, if a vehicle has stopped at a crosswalk to allow a pedestrian to cross, no other vehicle should pass that vehicle or enter the crosswalk while the pedestrian is crossing. The driver should wait until there is enough space beyond the crosswalk to move their vehicle. Even if a traffic signal indicates that the vehicle can proceed, the driver should still give way to pedestrians. If a driver breaks this rule, they could be fined up to $200.
Moreover, if a pedestrian gets hurt by a car in a marked crosswalk, the police department with jurisdiction will investigate what happened to find out who was at fault. They will check if the driver broke any laws and give them a ticket or file a complaint against them. This law does not stop a lawyer from pressing charges against the driver even if the police did not. Regardless of whether the driver is charged criminally, injured pedestrians have the right to initiate civil actions for monetary damages against the driver who struck them (and maybe even the municipality where they were injured). The damages often cover compensation for pain and suffering, lost wages, and medical expenses.
Massachusetts Distracted Driving Laws
Distracted driving is a serious issue in Massachusetts, and the state has implemented several laws to combat it. The Massachusetts Safe Driving Law was put into effect in September 2010, and it prohibits drivers from using handheld electronic devices to send, type, or read messages, including online posts and text messages. Additionally, minor operators are not allowed to use any handheld electronic devices while driving.
Beginning February 23, 2020, the state has also enforced a "hands-free" law that prohibits all electronic device use while driving, except when the device is in hands-free mode. Violators of this law may face a fine of $100 on their first offense.
Despite these laws, distracted driving remains a problem in the state. The FFY 2021 Massachusetts Annual Report revealed that 24 fatalities were caused by distracted driving. This number marks an 11% decrease from the 27 fatalities reported in 2020. It is important for all drivers to be aware of the dangers of distracted driving and to prioritize safety while on the road.
Massachusetts Car Accident Reporting Laws
Under M.G.L. c. 90 § 26, drivers involved in an accident resulting in personal injury, death, or property damage exceeding $1,000 must complete and submit a Motor Vehicle Crash Operator Report form to the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles within five days. Additionally, a copy of the report must be sent to the police department with jurisdiction over the area where the accident occurred.
In Massachusetts, if you don't report a car accident, you could get fined up to $5,000 or go to jail for up to two years. You could also lose your driver's license and have to pay for damages like medical bills and car repairs. Reporting quickly and accurately is required by law and is important for the proper documentation and processing of insurance claims. If you have been in a car accident in Massachusetts, you should report it right away and talk to a personal injury lawyer about your options and rights to seek compensation.
Massachusetts Hit-and-Run Laws
Leaving the scene of a car accident is also a serious offense in Massachusetts, particularly when the accident causes personal injury. According to M.G.L. c. 90, §§ 24 (a1/2)(1), any individual who leaves the scene of an accident after knowingly colliding with or otherwise causing injury to any person not resulting in death shall be found in violation of the law. This offense is punishable by a mandatory prison term of at least six months but not more than two years, or a fine ranging from $500 to $1,000.
Minimum Auto Insurance Requirements for Massachusetts Car Drivers
In Massachusetts, you have to have car insurance to register your car and drive it. There are four types of mandatory coverage that must be purchased in at least the minimum amounts required by law. Car owners have the option to get additional coverage as needed.
Vehicle owners must also include all licensed drivers related to them by blood, adoption, or marriage and residing in their household on their auto insurance policy, even if these persons have their own coverage or only occasionally use the car. While some insurers require only “customary” operators to be listed, the definition can vary widely. It's best to err on the side of caution and list everyone who might use the car. Failing to do so could result in a claim denial, regardless of whether the policyholder was driving during the accident.
Bodily Injury Liability
If a Massachusetts policyholder causes an accident that hurts or kills someone else, bodily injury liability coverage can help pay for their medical bills and other costs. This coverage requires a minimum of $20,000 per person and $40,000 per accident if more than one person is injured. However, it does not cover the injuries or deaths of passengers in the driver's own vehicle.
Personal Injury Protection Coverage Liability
Personal injury protection coverage (usually known as PIP) can only pay for medical expenses, lost wages, and replacement services up to its limit of $8,000, regardless of who caused the accident.
Uninsured Auto Coverage Liability
Bodily Injury Caused by Uninsured Auto coverage can protect the policyholder if they are at fault for an accident and the other driver is uninsured or unidentified (“hit-and-run”). This coverage requires a minimum of $20,000 per person and $40,000 total for all people injured by the uninsured driver and applies to drivers, household members, passengers, and anyone who is allowed to drive the vehicle.
Property Damage Liability
Damage to Someone Else's Property, or Property Damage coverage, can cover the policyholder if they are at fault for an accident that causes damage to another person's property. This coverage requires a minimum policy limit of $5,000 and applies to accidents caused by the driver, a household member, or another driver who has permission to use the car.
Additional, Optional Coverage
If a person is injured or their property is damaged in an automobile accident, the mandatory coverage may not provide enough insurance for the full extent of their losses. That's why many drivers choose to purchase additional coverage. This can include higher limits for property damage and bodily injury coverage, collision and comprehensive coverage, and other types of insurance.
I recommend that consumers purchase additional auto insurance. Ideally, folks should have at least $100K coverage. I have handled countless cases where our clients have had substantial injuries and they were only able to recover $20,000 due to limited uninsured and underinsured coverage.
To determine which types and levels of coverage are best for one’s needs, it's important to speak with an insurance professional. Insurance companies are required to give people who want to buy a policy clear information about their options when they apply for a policy or at any other time when they have questions.
Penalties for Driving without Insurance in Massachusetts
In Massachusetts, it is illegal to drive a car without insurance, and doing so can lead to serious consequences. The penalties for driving without insurance in Massachusetts include:
Fines: The first offense of driving without insurance can result in a fine of $500 to $5,000. Subsequent offenses can result in higher fines.
License suspension: The policyholder’s driver's license may be suspended for up to 60 days for a first offense. Subsequent offenses can result in longer license suspensions.
Registration suspension: The policyholder’s vehicle registration may be suspended if the driver is caught driving without insurance.
Jail time: The driver may face up to a year of jail time.
Increased insurance rates: If the policyholder is caught driving without insurance, they may be required to pay higher insurance rates for several years.
Potential for civil lawsuits: If the policyholder causes an accident while driving without insurance, they may be personally liable for any damages and injuries they cause.
Massachusetts Is a No-Fault State for Insurance Claims
In Massachusetts, car accident laws operate under a no-fault insurance system. This means if the policyholder is involved in a car accident, their car insurance will cover some of their medical bills, lost wages, and other related expenses, regardless of who caused the accident. There are various steps to take when filing a car accident insurance claim in Massachusetts. The policyholder must:
Contact their insurance company as soon as possible after the accident.
Provide their insurance company with information about the accident, including the date, time, and location, as well as the names and contact information of any other drivers, passengers, or witnesses involved.
Cooperate with their insurance company's investigation of the accident.
Provide their insurance company with documentation of any property damage or injuries sustained in the accident, including medical bills, repair estimates, and receipts for any expenses related to the accident.
Massachusetts Is a Modified Comparative Negligence State for Car Accident Lawsuits
In Massachusetts, people who drive cars need to know how important comparative negligence is in personal injury lawsuits. The state follows the “modified comparative negligence rule,” which is a legal concept that lets a plaintiff get damages in a personal injury lawsuit even if they were partly to blame for the accident that caused their injuries. The compensation they receive is reduced by the percentage of fault attributed to them. The purpose of the modified comparative negligence rule is to ensure that blame is reasonably allocated among the parties involved in an accident and that the damages granted are proportional to each party's degree of fault.
In the state of Massachusetts, a plaintiff can receive damages if they are found to be less than 51% responsible for the accident. However, their damages award is reduced by the percentage of fault attributed to them. For instance, if a plaintiff is granted $100,000 in damages but is deemed to be 20% at fault for the accident, their damages award will be decreased by 20% to $80,000. Plaintiffs who are found to be 51% or more at fault cannot recover any damages.
Massachusetts Statute of Limitations for Filing Car Accident Lawsuits
In Massachusetts, the statute of limitations for filing a car accident lawsuit is generally three years from the date of the accident. This means the plaintiff must file their lawsuit within the given timeframe if they don’t want to be barred from pursuing their claims in court.
It's important to note that there may be exceptions to this general rule. For example, if the accident involved a government entity, such as a city or state agency, the plaintiff may have a shorter time period to file a claim. It's always a good idea to consult with a personal injury attorney in Massachusetts who can advise them on the specific deadlines that apply to their case.
Legal Resources for Massachusetts Car Accident Victims
Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation
Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC), established in 1983, is the largest funding source for civil legal aid organizations in the state. MLAC provides free legal assistance—by way of information, advice, and representation—to low-income individuals and families that are facing critical, non-criminal (civil) legal issues.
Civil Legal Aid for Victims of Crime Initiative
The Civil Legal Aid for Victims of Crime Initiative (CLAVC) helps Massachusetts individuals with civil legal problems that are a direct result of the crime they survived. The CLAVC Initiative is supported by the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance. People with incomes at or below 125% of the federal poverty level, or an annual income at or below $37,500 for a family of four, are eligible for civil legal aid.
Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office
The Attorney General’s Office is Massachusetts citizens’ state advocate regarding criminal investigations and prosecution. It accommodates applications for monetary assistance for victims of violent crimes. It also provides information on consumer protection, including selecting insurance policies and filing insurance claims. Drivers can file an auto insurance complaint on the site.
Massachusetts Department of Transportation
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation provides information on road safety and accident prevention. It also accommodates the online filing for a claim for damage caused by a roadway defect.
Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV)
The Massachusetts RMV online portal provides information on car registration and licensing, insurance requirements, and post-accident procedures. Site users can request public driving records and crash reports, request a court hearing, and make online payments for traffic citations.
Attorney Smith is a strong advocate for the rights of injured and disabled. He possesses over 25 years of legal experience. His firm specializes in handling all types of injury claims including motor vehicle and pedestrian accidents, wrongful death claims, negligence claims, premises liability cases, workers compensation injuries and social security disability matters. Attorney Smith and his team of attorneys have handled countless jury and non-jury trials and they've recovered tens of million dollars on behalf of their clients.