The Mass. Uninsured Motor Vehicle Law

Pursuant to G.L. c. 90 § 34J, automobile insurance is mandatory in Massachusetts and it is illegal to drive an uninsured motor vehicle or allow an uninsured motor vehicle to remain on a public or even private way. The goal of the Massachusetts compulsory insurance law is to insure that drivers and passengers involved in accidents will have an opportunity to receive financial compensation for personal injuries and property damage. The Massachusetts Insurance Law applies to drivers and “all persons who own or control such vehicles as owners.” Unbeknownst to most, a conviction for having an uninsured motor vehicle in Massachusetts can have serious consequences.An uninsured motor vehicle violation is a criminal offense and it will result in an automatic license suspension ranging from 60 days in length for the first offense and 1 year for a second offense. These license suspensions are mandatory and the Mass. RMV will not grant a hardship license. The only way to get hardship relief is to apply to the RMV Board of Appeal. However, effective plea negotiations or other legal tactics which challenge the sufficiency of the evidence can often be used to avoid being convicted of this offense in court. 

Uninsured charges will appear on a Massachusetts Driving Record as “No Liability Policy.” In addition to a mandatory license suspension of either 60 days or 1 year, a conviction carries a sentence of not more than 1 year in the house of correction and a fine of not less than $500.00 and not more than $5,000.00. There is no way to simply pay a citation for “no liability policy.” If you are cited for this, you will have to appear in court as a criminal defendant and you are entitled to be represented by a lawyer.

Massachusetts Ignition Interlock Requirements

In the case of Ronsethal v. Registry of Motor Vehicles and RMV Board of Appeal, the Superior Court upheld the Ignition Interlock Device requirements of Melanie’s Law.

The facts of the case are as follows: Mark Rosenthal was arrested twice for operating a motor vehicle under the influence (OUI). His first offense occurred on April 3, 1985. He admitted to sufficient facts in Lawrence District Court and was placed on probation and assigned to an alcohol education program pursuant to G.L. c. 90, § 24D. Rosenthal complied with the conditions of his probation and was discharged on March 11, 1987.

On July 9, 2005, Rosenthal was arrested for a second OUI offense. He pled guilty or admitted to sufficient facts in Woburn District Court and was given a second chance first time offender disposition pursuant to G.L. c. 90, § 24D. The court suspended his license for forty-five days, placed him on probation for one year, and assigned him to an alcohol education program. Because Rosenthal refused to submit to a chemical breath test at the time of his arrest, the court suspended his license for an additional year, pursuant to c. 90, § 24(1)(f)(1).

On August 23, 2005, Rosenthal obtained a hardship license permitting him to drive between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. The hardship license was due to expire on August 29, 2008. Rosenthal became eligible for full reinstatement of his license in July 2006, but continued to drive on the restricted hardship license until August 2008. Beginning January 1, 2006 (and effective in July 2006 when Rosenthal became eligible for reinstatement), substantial changes had been made to Massachusetts’ OUI laws to require that persons with two or more OUI convictions install a certified IID on each vehicle that they own, lease or operate as a precondition to having a driver’s license restored. On August 25, 2008, Rosenthal sought to reinstate his license at the Registry of Motor Vehicles and was refused a full license unless he agreed to install an IID in his vehicle. He renewed his license with the twelve-hour operating restriction.

On January 22, 2009, Rosenthal requested a hearing with the Registry to remove the twelve-hour restriction. The Registry denied his request and issued a notice that effective February 22, 2009, Rosenthal’s license to operate would be revoked unless he agreed to install an IID in accordance with the statute. Rosenthal appealed to the Board. On April 15, 2009, the Board upheld the Registry’s ruling that Rosenthal must install an IID before his license will be restored in full.

Rosenthal argues that applying the IID requirement of Melanie’s Law to him constitutes an illegal retroactive application of the law because his actions and convictions occurred before January 1, 2006, when Melanie’s Law went into effect. However, Rosenthal did not become eligible to reinstate his license until July 2006, and he did not try to remove the hardship restrictions until August 2008.

In Gordon v. Registry of Motor Vehicles, 20 Mass L. Rptr. 563, 563 (Mass.Super.2006), plaintiff Joseph W. Gordon’s license had been suspended as the result of two OUI convictions. Despite Gordon’s eligibility to reinstate his license in full on December 17, 2005, he did not apply until January 3, 2006, two days after Melanie’s Law became operative. In denying his request for a preliminary injunction enjoining the Registry from enforcing the IID provision of Melanie’s Law against him, the Superior Court held that “the act triggering the application of Melanie’s Law to the plaintiff was Gordon’s application for a new license, not his previous OUI offenses.”

The Court in Rosenthal also ruled that the RMV Board of Appeal correctly concluded that the IID requirement as applied to Rosenthal does not violate due process, double jeopardy or ex post facto principles.

This case reaffirms the rule that if you have 2 or more OUI convictions on your record and you are reinstating your license, or coming off of a hardship license, on or after January 1, 2006, you will be required to use the interlock device for at least 2 years. There is no way around this.

Need to Avoid a 90 day or 1 year Mass. License Suspension for JOL Speeding?

The Mass. RMV imposes an automatic and mandatory license suspensions for Massachusetts Junior Operators who have been found responsible for speeding. A first offense will result in a 90 day loss of license and a second offense will result in a mandatory one year loss of license. Also, junior operators who are caught speeding will have to pay a $500.00 reinstatement fee, take a written test, apply for a learner’s permit, and take a road test again. Furthermore, anyone who has his or her JOL suspended for speeding must take the NSC Alive at 25 course and the State Courts Against Road Rage (SCARR) program. JOL Penalties are stiff and the only way to get any type of hardship license is to appear before the Board of Appeal.

However, the Board of Appeal is generally reluctant to issue hardship licenses in JOL speeding cases. In order to succeed, the Junior Operator must convince the Board that he or she is not a danger to public safety and that he or she has an extreme hardship which requires a driver’s license. I have successfully restored the rights of junior operators at the Board of Appeal.

The good news is that there is a way around the JOL suspensions. The Registry does not take action unless and until a responsible finding enters. This can be avoided by appealing the citation to the clerk-Magistrate instead of paying the citation. If you lose at the clerk-magistrate appeal to the judge. If you lose in front of the judge, consider appealing to the Appellate Division of the District Court.

Why so many appeals? It makes sense to appeal because the mandatory license suspension provision of the Mass. JOL suspension law only apply to holders of Massachusetts Junior Operator’s Licenses. The law states that “a holder of a junior operator’s license who is convicted” of speeding will have his license suspended. Once you turn 18 years old, you are no longer “a holder of a junior operator’s license” and you cannot therefore be suspended for speeding on a JOL.

Massachusetts Traffic Tickets

I just read a rather interesting article on the subject of Massachusetts traffic citations. It was written by Joe McKinney, a former police officer and police academy instructor. In “More than Just a Ticket,” McKinney discusses an interesting statistical study done on Massachusetts traffic tickets. The study showed that local Massachusetts police officers were 24 percent more likely to cite non-residents as opposed to residents in their community. The study also showed that out of state residents were more likely to get cited than Massachusetts residents. Finally, according to the study, the more cash-strapped a community, the more likely its police officers were to issue traffic citations, which generate revenue for the municipality. However, it was noted that traffic citations result safer roadways by reducing the number of accidents and injuries. 

Proposed Law Requires Vision Screening & Bans Text Messaging

The Boston Globe recently reported on proposed legislation which would require the Mass. RMV to administer mandatory vision screenings for drivers over 75 years old, who are attempting to renew their Massachusetts driver’s licenses. The bill would also provide immunity to physicians who report patients to may be unsafe to drive and it would prohibit text messaging while driving.

In addition to the vision screening, anti-text messaging, and other provisions, the bill would ban Massachusetts Junior Operators from using a cell phone while driving. Cell phone usage is thought to be a major source of driver distraction and a contributing cause to many motor vehicle accidents.

Massachusetts State Representative Charles Murphy (D) Burlington drafted the most recent version of the bill, which I predict will receive criticism from AARP and other groups which represent the interests of senior citizens.

Late & 2nd Mass. Traffic Ticket Hearings

Late Traffic Citation Hearings

The Legal authority that gives the RMV the right to grant a customer a late hearing, before being suspended, on a civil traffic citation is G.L. c. 90C § (A)(4) which states in pertinent part, “[a] violator who does not, within twenty days of the date of the citation, request a non-criminal hearing shall not thereafter be given such a hearing, unless the registrar shall determine that the failure to make such a request timely was for a good cause that was not within the control of the violator.”

Second Traffic Citation Hearings

There is no authority for a Registry Hearing Officer to grant a second hearing on a traffic ticket. The law speaks only to a civil hearing before a magistrate and, in the event of dissatisfaction, an appeal to a justice. Any further appeal is allowed to the Appellate Division of the District Court or Appellate Court. The RMV or Hearing Officer is simply a step in the recording of the process of appealing a citation. No Hearing Officer may grant a hearing on a citation that has already been before a magistrate or judge, even if you failed to appear for your first traffic ticket hearing. A customer may go back to that magistrate, judge or court and ask them for a second hearing and bring such approval in writing to a RMV Hearing Officer to record such permission granted by the court. The RMV does not accept oral approval from any court. The court allowing a new hearing must provide a proper letter stating that it has no objection to a 2nd hearing being granted.

If the Court denies your request for a second hearing on a traffic citation, then the Court previous finding of “responsible” stands, the and you are responsible for all fees related to the citation. The citation and all Mass. License Reinstatement Fees must be paid to MassDOT/RMV to maintain your driving privileges. Also, if the court refuses to grant you a late or second hearing, the citation will count against you for license suspension purposes (e.g. 5 surchargable events, 7 surchargable events, habitual traffic offender, 3 speeding tickets in a year.)

Massachusetts Habitual Traffic Offender License Revocations

Your license will be suspended for 4 years if you receive a total of three major moving violations, or any combination of twelve major or minor moving violations with in any 5 year period. In most cases, both in-state and out of state violatons will count against you. At the end of the suspension period you will be required to pay a $530 reinstatement fee. You must have taken the National Safety Council Driver Re-Training Class to get reinstated. If your Mass. driving record is accurate, a 4 year suspension is mandatory under the Massachusetts HTO law. However, you can avoid the HTO revocation providing proof that any of the HTO violations are under appeal or that any of the decisions have been reversed through the court system.

Actions taken on 5 surchargeable events, 7 surchargeable events, and Habitual Traffic Offenders (HTO) remain independent of one another. If you have past or current suspensions, you must serve each suspension or revocation independently.

It may be possible to get a hardship license on a Habitual Traffic Offender License Suspension after you have served 1 year of the mandatory 4 year loss of license. Hardship licenses are available by appealing to the Registry of Motor Vehicles or the Registry Board of Appeal, after 1 year of the 4 year license revocation has been served.

Mass. Traffic Tickets (Civil Motor Vehicle Infractions)

Civil violations, such as not obeying traffic signals or speeding, are considered non-criminal and can usually be settled by paying fines. If you receive a citation from a law enforcement officer for a civil motor vehicle infraction (CMVI), you must pay the required fine or request a court hearing to dispute the citation within 20 days.

If you do not respond to a citation within 20 days, you will be found responsible and charged a substantial late payment fee. Continued failure to pay the citation and late fee will cause your license to be suspended. Paying a motor vehicle citation fine means you accept responsibility for that violation. Your driving record will note that you have accepted responsibility for a citation whether you paid the citation by mail, requested a hearing and were ordered by a court to pay the fine, failed to appear for your hearing or you failed to respond to the citation within the 20-day period.

As of July 1, 2009, all requests for a clerk magistrate hearing are subject to a $25 filing fee. The fee is collected by the court at the time of your hearing. DO NOT mail the $25 filing fee with your request for a court hearing.

All moving violations are tracked in Massachusetts by the RMV and are recorded on your driving record. Moving violations can affect your motor vehicle insurance rate and may cause your license to be suspended.

Parking violations are not considered CMVIs. They are handled by the city or town that issued the citations or tickets. However, unpaid parking violations will prevent you from renewing your driver’s license or vehicle registration.

5 Surchargable Event Suspensions

The Mass. RMV will automatically suspend your driver’s license if you accumulate any combination of 5 moving violations (citations / tickets) and/or surchargeable accidents within any 3-year period. If your license is suspended for 5 surchargable events, you cannot get any type of hardship or work license. If your driving record is accurate, the RMV will not reinstate your driver’s license unless and until you take the required remedial driving class.

You have 90 days to provide proof that an 8 hour National Safety Council course has been completed. To schedule a Safety Course call 800-215-1581. Once the course is completed the National Safety Council will electronically notify the Registry of Motor Vehicles and the pending suspension will be cleared without a reinstatement fee. This course is also required for reinstatements from habitual traffic offender revocations and JOL speeding violations. If you fail to complete and pass the course within the 90 day time frame, the suspension will become effective on the date listed on the notice. The National Safety Council course must still be completed, and a $100 reinstatement fee will be due. This suspension is mandatory under Massachusetts law.

The Board of Appeal is Moving Again

The Board of Appeal of the Massachusetts Division of Insurance of the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulations has the legal authority to reverse or modify decisions of the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles. The Board hears license suspension appeals and Massachusetts hardship license cases in various locations throughout the state.

The Board was previously located on the third floor of the Boston branch of the Mass. RMV at 630 Washington Street in Chinatown. The Board has since  moved to South Station in Boston.

Effective Monday, March 22, 2010, the RMV Board of Appeal will be moving again. Both the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Division of Insurance and the Board of Appeal on Motor Vehicle Liability Policies and Bonds will be relocating to new offices. The new address is: 1000 Washington Street, 8th floor Boston MA 02118. Boston Hardship License Hearings will be conducted at the Board’s office. The Board also holds hearings in Plymouth, Marlborough, and Springfield.