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ELEVEN SUBSTANTIAL DIFFERENCES
BETWEEN MASSACHUSETTS'
TRAFFIC LAWS AND
PROVISIONS IN THE UNIFORM VEHICLE CODE
AND THE LAWS OF MOST OTHER STATES


included 1983 by Edward Kearney of the
National Council on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances
in a letter to John S. Allen

1. Section 11-301 of the Uniform Vehicle Code requires drivers to be in the right lane or near the right edge of the roadway only when they are "proceeding at less than the normal speed of traffic." The sign used to remind drivers of this requirement usually reads, "Slower moving traffic keep right." Appropriate exceptions are made for slower-moving drivers who desire to pass or turn left. By comparison, Mass. Ann. Laws Ch. 89, 4. requires the driver of "a slow moving vehicle . . . ascending a grade . . . [to] keep said vehicle in the extreme right-hand lane . . . " and 4B requires all drivers on all ways to be in the "lane nearest the right side" unless passing another vehicle, preparing for a turn or unless the right lane is designated for purposes "other than ordinary travel." The sign used to post this latter regulation would be, "Keep Right Except To Pass." When there are two or more lanes for traffic moving in the same direction, there are many instances (in addition to turning left or passing) when being in the left lane would be reasonable and safe. Some of these are:

  1. When there is no other vehicle on the roadway for several miles.

  2. When the right lane is bumpy and the left lane is smooth.

  3. When traffic is very congested.

  4. When many cars are in the right lane and very few are in the left lane.

  5. When approaching a merging point where cars entering the roadway may need to use the right lane.

  6. When the right lane does not go in the direction the driver wishes to go.

In none of these instances would Mass. 4B allow a driver to use the left lane, while the UVC would subject only to the rule requiring slower-moving traffic to be in the right lane. The National Committee found the rule requiring drivers to be in the right lane on one-way roadways, or where there is more than one lane for traffic moving in the same direction, to be unworkable in 1934. This rule can be found in the laws of only four other states and is criticized further in conjunction with the Michigan law on pages 273-74 of Traffic Laws Annotated (1972).

2. Section 4 of Mass. Ann. Laws Ch. 89 requires drivers to remain on the right side of any highway at an intersection where the view is obstructed unless this rule is altered by pavement markings or unless a position on the right side would be unsafe or impracticable. UVC 11-301(a) generally requires drivers to be on the right side of the roadway at all places and creates appropriate exceptions to this rule. One important exception is for one-way roadways. Another allows passing, but passing is not allowed at any intersection where traffic moves in two directions -- not just those where the view is obstructed as under 4. See UVC 11-306. Another difference is that the Massachusetts rule would apply on a one-way roadway while the UVC rule would riot. That is, even though on a one-way roadway, drivers in Massachusetts technically are required to remain on the right side of the roadway at obstructed intersections. The National Committee deleted a rule comparable to this Massachusetts law from the Uniform Vehicle Code in 1930. See Traffic Laws Annotated 264 and 300 (1972).

3. Prior to 1968, the Uniform Vehicle Code had two rules for vehicles approaching an "uncontrolled" intersection. The familiar rule requiring the driver on the left to yield to the vehicle on its right was modified by a second rule requiring a driver to yield to a vehicle which had already entered the intersection. The second rule was deleted from UVC 11-401 in 1968 but is still contained in Mass. Ann. Laws Ch. 89 8. When two drivers approach an intersection at approximately the same time, they need one rule, not two. In addition, at least one state supreme court held the two rules unconstitutional in a civil action because they conflicted with each other.

4. & 5. UVC 11-405 would require a driver to yield the right of way to an ambulance or a fire truck using flashing red lights and a siren; a police vehicle need use only a siren. Mass. Ann, Laws Ch. 89, 7 gives the right of way to certain emergency vehicles without requiring any special audible or visual signals. The UVC rule specifically requires pulling over and stopping. Mass. 6A specifically requires only streetcars to stop (not clear of any intersection as in the UVC) and only for fire vehicles.

6. UVC 11-602(b) prohibits making a U turn on any curve or hillcrest where the visibility is restricted within 500 feet. Mass. Rules & Regs, for Driving on State Highways 23 (Jan. 1971) bans U turns only when a sign prohibits such turns. See UVC 11-201(a) requiring drivers to comply with all official traffic control devices.

7. Speed limits in nine states, including Massachusetts, are "prima facie." That is, evidence showing that a driver exceeded the posted or a statutory limit constitutes only prima facie evidence that his speed was unlawful. Under the Uniform Vehicle Code and the laws of 33 jurisdictions, all speed limits are "absolute" so that a rate of speed in excess of a posted or statutory limit is unlawful. Nine states have both kinds of speed limits, Compare UVC 11-801 and 11-801.1 with Mass. Ann. Laws Ch. 90, 17.

8. UVC 11-1202 provides that bicyclists have the same rights and duties as the drivers of vehicles "except as to those provisions of this act which by their nature" cannot be applicable and except as to special rules for bicycles. Mass. Ann. Laws Ch. 85, 11B requires bicyclists to conform with traffic rules but does not expressly give them the same rights. Massachusetts would not require compliance with rules that are not obviously and reasonably applicable.

Note: This Massachusetts law requires bicyclists to ride single file. This rule differs substantially from UVC 11-1205(b) allowing riding two abreast. This Massachusetts provision apparently was overlooked in Traffic Laws Annotated and should be regarded as a 12th substantial difference.

9.. UVC 11-202(c)(1) on the meaning of a steady red signal requires drivers to stop before entering the crosswalk so pedestrians can use it. Mass. Rules & Regs. for Driving on State Highways art. IV, 10(d) would allow drivers to stop on the crosswalk unless a stop line is installed in advance thereof.

10.. UVC 11-202(b)(1) allows drivers to enter an intersection against a steady yellow signal. It means caution because either a red signal will soon be shown or a related green signal is being ended. But Mass, Rules & Regs. for Driving on State Highways art IV, 10(c), instructs drivers to stop unless so close to the intersection that a stop cannot be made in safety. The Massachusetts rule was deleted from the Uniform Vehicle Code in 1944 and new is in effect in only nine states other than Massachusetts. With the yellow interval lasting from 3 to 8 seconds, it is often safe and reasonable to enter the intersection even though it may also be safe to stop.

11. UVC 11-202(a)(2) requires drivers proceeding on any green arrow to yield the right of way to all traffic within the intersection and to any pedestrian in an adjacent crosswalk. Mass. Rules & Regs. for Driving on State Highways art. IV, 10(b) requires drivers proceeding on certain green arrows to yield only to pedestrians in a marked crosswalk (and not also to pedestrians within an unmarked crosswalk or those legally within the intersection as would the UVC) and only to "vehicles proceeding from another direction on a green indication."

SOME IMPORTANT RULES OF THE ROAD THAT HAVE APPARENTLY NOT BEEN ADOPTED IN MASSACHUSETTS

1. UVC 11-402 requiring a driver making a left turn to yield the right of way to a vehicle approaching from the opposite direction.

2. UVC 10-102 to 10-104 requiring drivers in a crash to stop, identify themselves, and aid the injured. See also UVC 10-106 requiring immediate notice to the police of all serious crashes.

3. UVC 11-501(a) requiring pedestrians to obey traffic control devices applicable to them.

4. UVC 11-509 requiring drivers to yield to pedestrians on sidewalks.

5. UVC 11-510 requiring pedestrians to yield to emergency vehicles.

6. UVC 11-512 concerning pedestrians who are drunk or drugged.

7. UVC 11-902(a)(1) prohibiting a person from driving with more than a specified amount of alcohol in his blood.

8. UVC 11-1102(b) which prohibits a driver from backing on any controlled-access highway.

9. UVC 11-104 giving persons riding animals or driving animal-drawn vehicles the same rights and duties as drivers. Compare this with Mass. Ann, Laws ch. 89, 14.

10. Massachusetts' traffic laws do not indicate where they apply. Under UVC 15-101, rules of the road apply in all municipalities and, under UVC 11-101, they generally apply only on the highways. The rules and regulations in Massachusetts adopted by the Department of Public Works apply only on state highways. Massachusetts should have one statewide traffic code containing rules for all users on all highways.


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