Boston Happenings

Massachusetts Driver Opinions Widely Divided Over New Windshield Wiper Law

A new law went into effect April 7, 2015 in Massachusetts, which requires drivers to turn on their headlights whenever their windshield wipers are turned on. Based on comments left at media outlets, drivers seem to have widely conflicting opinions about the law. Some see it as an infringement of their personal liberties and as a money grab by both the state and by insurance companies, while others see it as a necessary, common-sense public safety ordinance which has no downside.

The new law was signed by Governor Patrick on January 7 and follows the lead set by 18 other states, which already require headlights to be on when the wipers are on. The goal of the law is to rainy windshieldincrease vehicle visibility, thus reducing accidents. The law also states that headlights must be on during low-light conditions, such as a heavy fog, and 30 minutes before sunrise or 30 minutes after sunset.

The fine for breaking the law is only $5, but a driver who gets ticketed for a headlights offense will also face insurance surcharges. The offense is considered a moving violation and can raise
insurance premiums for six years.

Comments left online at the websites for the Boston Globe and for WCVB are unambiguously for or against the wiper/headlight law.

A sampling of the opinions against the law:

  • “Just what we need: another intrusive law to take away MORE liberty and freedom… Just another way for the ‘Commiewealth’ to line their pockets with our money.”
  • “We live in a police state and this law is just enhancement of that… Welcome to Fascist America.”
  • “This law is a sham. It is only a tool to raise revenue. I know the $5 fee is peanuts, but…the surcharge is going to kill us.”
  • “This will go a long way in funding that new wing at the Liberty Mutual building. Making this a surchargeable offense is idiotic.”

A sampling of the opinions in favor of the law:

  • “I, for one, am all for it. Many cars have lights on all the time anyway, what harm could it do. And if it prevents accidents….why not?”
  • “What’s the big deal? …to me it’s no different than having the sense to turn on headlights at night.”
  • “The whining about this is amazing. Fine and surcharge these morons all you want, I’m all for it…Wipers on, headlights on, it’s not hard.”
  • “As a truck driver who depends on mirrors only to see rear objects, lights on when raining is a no-brainer.”

Mary Maguire, Director of Public & Legislative Affairs for AAA Southern New England, who testified in favor of the law before the Massachusetts legislature, defended the law in an email response: “AAA’s position is that the law will enhance safety on our roadways by improving visibility.” She also defended the insurance surcharges: “Many other moving violations–including the lack of an inspection sticker–are surchargeable offenses.”

John Bowman, Vice President of the National Motorists Association, a grassroots organization created “to protect the interests of North American motorists,” criticized the need for the new statute in an email reply: “The wiper/headlight law seems like an arbitrary requirement. There are times when a driver might need to have the wipers on when it doesn’t make sense to have the lights on as well…Using headlights in daytime does not improve highway safety and is distracting to other drivers.” Commenting about insurance surcharges, Bowman said, “We do know that insurance companies are notoriously unforgiving when surcharging for these kinds of minor infractions.”

But, like it or not, effective today, all Massachusetts drivers must switch on their headlights when the wipers are turned on, or face penalties for failing to do so.

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About James Bedsole

James is a Boston-based freelance journalist and medical professional. Raised in Memphis, TN, James moved to Massachusetts in the 1980's and never plans to leave.

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