Tough Penalties for CDL Holders in Massachusetts

Both Massachusetts and Federal Laws impose severe penalties for truck drivers who violate DUI and breathalyzer refusal laws. These laws can result in a lifetime commercial driver’s license revocation which may be extremely difficult to reverse, even at the Massachusetts Division of Insurance Board of Appeal or in court.

For example, if you have a prior drunk driving conviction and you refuse to submit to a breath or blood test, after being arrested for operating under the influence of alcohol many years later, you will have a lifetime Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) revocation. This is because two events, such as a DUI or a refusal, not arising out of the same incident, will automatically trigger a lifetime CDL disqualification and revocation.

G.L. c. 90F, §9(B), which is a Massachusetts state statute applicable to CDL holders, enacted pursuant to Chapter 246 of the Acts of 1990, provides for lifetime disqualification penalties for any CDL holder who has two or more OUI offenses or two or more chemical test refusals, or any combination thereof, arising from two or more separate incidents. This Commercial Driver’s License Suspension is consistent with federal regulation 49 CFR §383.51, the purpose of which is to increase highway safety by removing certain drivers from the roadways. The Massachusetts and Federal regulations are consistent with the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986 which is federal legislation governing commercial driver’s licenses. This law standardizes the penalties for drunk driving and breath test refusals when it comes to CDL holders.

The Board of Appeal has been upholding the lifetime CDL revocations even when a driver has a reinstatement order from a judge. The Board has taken the position that the early restoration order applies only to a Class D passenger car license and not a CDL. This interpretation has been upheld in Superior Courts.

Massachusetts to Issue New Licenses in 2017

In order to comply with federal identification document security standards which were implement as a post September 11, 2001 anti-terrorism safeguard, the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles will begin issuing driver’s licenses which comply with the Federal Real ID Act in the Fall of 2017. Although compliance with the Real ID Law was controversial, it is necessary in order for Massachusetts license holders to be able to enter secure federal buildings and board planes, using their licenses as forms of identification. In order to get one of these more secure identification credentials, the applicant will have to satisfy the Registry of Motor Vehicles that he or she is legally present in the United States. Those who are here illegally will not be able to obtain a Massachusetts Real ID Driver’s License. However, these individuals can use another secure document such as a valid passport to prove their identities and to be able to board aircraft.

Real ID Act Compliant Licenses are not mandatory. The Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles will continue to issue driver’s licenses which are not complaint with the Act. Therefore, Massachusetts drivers will have the option of obtaining a Real ID Mass. Driver’s License or the less secure older form of a driver’s license, which confers the same driving privileges.

These new licenses are necessary because the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) prevents air carriers and others from accepting a driver’s license which does not satisfy certain security requirements. The Registry has been granted numerous extensions, so as to give it more time to meet Real ID Act Standards and this latest action will ensure compliance when the latest extension expires. The Registry has been working hard to make the necessary operational and logistical improvements required to be able to issue this more secure credential and it will be ready to do so next year.

Commercial Drivers License Suspensions

Prior to implementation of the Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) program in Massachusetts, any person licensed to drive an automobile could also legally drive a tractor-trailer or a bus. In many of the states that did have a classified licensing system, a person was not skills tested in a representative vehicle. As a result, many drivers were operating vehicles that they may not have been qualified to drive. In addition, drivers were able to obtain driver’s licenses from more than one state and hide or spread convictions among several driving records and continue to drive, despite suspensions or revocations.

To address the problems with unqualified truck drivers, the Federal Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986 (the Act) was signed into law on October 27, 1986. The goal of the Act is to improve highway safety nationally by ensuring that drivers of large trucks and buses are qualified to operate those vehicles and to remove unsafe and unqualified drivers from the highways. The Act retained the state’s right to issue a driver’s license, but established minimum national standards which states must meet when issuing CDLs. Massachusetts adopted the Federal Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act in 1990.

The Act is designed to protect the public from unqualified and potentially dangerous commercial drivers. The law outlines a series of criminal or other offenses or serious motor vehicle violations which would disqualify an operator from possessing a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Section 9 Chapter 90F sets forth the penalties for CDL violations as well as certain non-CDL violations such as DUI or refusing to submit to a breath test, regardless of whether the person arrested for Operating Under the Influence is operating a CDL vehicle or not. A single DUI or breathalyzer refusal violation results in a one year CDL disqualification. If a CDL holder commits a violation contained in the list on two separate occasions, the CDL is subject to revocation and the CDL holder would be disqualified for life from reinstating his CDL privilege. Chapter 90F, Section 9 includes a life-time look-back period.

When a CDL, operator violates one of the Laws or regulations contained in c. 90F, Section 9, he is disqualified from holding a CDL for a certain period of time. A disqualification means that a person is not allowed to posses the license or right to operate.

Unfortunately, the Board of Appeal has determined that it does not have the discretion or statutory power to order the Registrar to modify the disqualification where the individual offenses are valid and proper.

New Law to Detect Suspended Drivers

There’s now another reason to apply for a hardship license instead of running the risk of being arrested for operating after suspension in Massachusetts.

Shortly before leaving office, Governor Deval Patrick signed a bill which will require the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles to notify the local police whenever a so-called “dangerous driver” in their community has his or her license taken away. The purpose of this new law is to notify the police of the loss of driving privileges, so that they will be aware of suspended drivers in their cities or towns.

Under this new law, if your license has been suspended or revoked for DUI, being an immediate threat, habitual traffic offender or other specified reason, your local police department will be alerted and if you are seen driving, you can be arrested and criminally charged. There is mandatory jail time associated with some operating after suspension convictions and, if you are convicted, you will lose your license for an even longer period of time.

The police have other tools at their disposal to detect drivers who have lost their licenses. These tools include Automatic License Plate Recognition and cruiser laptops which allow police to check your license status without you even knowing it. In 2013, state and local police issued at total of 62,000 citations for people driving while unlicensed or suspended in Massachusetts. With this new law, those numbers are likely to increase.

The basis for the new law is the death of a 20 year old Sharon woman who was struck and killed by a driver whose license had recently been suspended.

Instead of risking arrest and prosecution, if you have a valid reason to drive, you can be considered for a hardship license by appearing before either the Registry or Division of Insurance Board of Appeal. Both of these agencies have the ability to consider you for a 12 hour license if you satisfy the requirements. This is a much better option than risking jail by driving while your right to operate is under suspension or revocation.

Suspension Notifications for Taxi Drivers Proposed

TAXI_PERMITState Representative Paul Tucker of Salem, Massachusetts, who is the former Chief of Police of the Salem Police Department is proposing legislation which would require the Registry of Motor Vehicles to automatically notify local Massachusetts Police Departments whenever a Taxi driver has his driver’s license suspended or revoked.

The basis for this legislation is that Taxi or Hackney licenses are issued by local police departments and they currently have no way of knowing if a taxi driver had his or her driver’s license suspended or revoked by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.  With these electronic notifications, the local police can ensure that the driver is not still operating a taxi with a revoked or suspended driver’s license. It places information in the hands of local police so that they could consider taking action against the taxi driver’s hackney or taxi permit.

The proposed legislation was prompted by the death of a 44 year old man who was struck and killed in Salem, Massachusetts. The victim was struck by a taxi driver who had no valid Mass. Driver’s license. Under the new proposed system, the police would have been notified that the driver had no license and the police could have taken action to prevent him from working as a taxi driver.

Under the current system, most police departments only check the status of taxi drivers’ licenses when they apply for new hackney permits or renewals of their permits when they are due to expire. The new system would provide electronic notifications in a near “real time” basis.

Taxi drivers are more likely to accumulate surchargeable events due to the extensive amount of driving which they do often in congested urban areas and sometimes under time pressures.

Texting While Driving

In 2010, Massachusetts joined the list of 39 states that have placed some sort of ban texting while operating a motor vehicle.  The law that was enacted has placed numerous restrictions and harsher penalties on drivers that are operating a vehicle while communicating on a cell phone in an attempt to lower the amount of deaths and injuries caused by distracted driving.  In 2010, over 3,000 people were killed in car accidents caused by distracted drivers, and an additional 416,000 were injured.1 The bill states that no person operating a motor vehicle, regardless of age or profession, is allowed to send any sort of electronic message, including text messages, or allowed to use the internet on their mobile device.  However, drivers over the age of 18 are permitted to use cell phones for calling purposes and may also use hands-free technology.

Any operator of a public transportation vehicle or anyone considered a ‘novice driver’ (age 16-17) is prohibited from using a cell phone, regardless of if it is hands-free or not, except in emergency situations (which may be proven by phone records which shows the emergency call as evidence).  If you are a novice driver and are caught using your cell phone, your first offense results in a suspension of your license/learners permit, a fine of $100 and the required attendance at a course on improving the attitude behind the wheel.  The penalties are significantly harsher on the second and third offenses.  If the driver is over the age of 18 and caught texting while driving, the first offense results in a fine of $100 with significantly higher fines for future offenses.

Sending or reading an electronic message while operating a motor vehicle in Massachusetts constitutes a surchargeable event which can lead to the loss of your driver’s license.  If this occurs, you are entitled to appeal the suspension and you are allowed to be represented by a lawyer at any appeal hearing.

Correcting Registry of Motor Vehicles Driving Records

court_recordsRegistry of Motor Vehicle records are what MassDOT uses to determine the length of driver’s license suspensions. These records are not always accurate and there are ways to correct these important records.

Many inaccuracies are the results of converting paper to computer records. Errors may have occurred when the records were “computerized” many years ago. The first step in challenging the accuracy of your Massachusetts Driving Record begins with obtaining your Board of Probation record from the Massachusetts Criminal History Systems Board or the Probation Department of the District Court.

Next, a comparison needs to be between your criminal and driving records.  Where there is a discrepancy, the Board of Probation record is usually found to be correct. As one Superior Court Judge observed, “This court is satisfied that the Board of Probation records of convictions (“BOP”) carry substantial reliability. They are frequently reproduced, examined by judges, probation officers, defendants and their counsel, and relied upon by the court in sentencing. Mistakes, though rarely found, are quickly corrected.”

The third step in the process is to obtain the court documents associated with the OUI case that is in dispute. Often, due to the age of these records, they are sometimes difficult to obtain. The records should be certified by the Clerk-Magistrate’s Office so that they can be introduced in official proceedings such as Registry, Court, and Board of Appeal Hearings.

The Clerk-Magistrate’s Office should send a “corrected abstract” or a “supplemental abstract” to the Massachusetts Merit Rating Board, which is located at the RMV Branch at 25 Newport Avenue Extension in Quincy, Massachusetts. Upon receipt, the Merit Rating Board will review the updated information from the Trial Court and compare it with any records on file at the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

Once the Merit Rating Board updates your driving record, you will likely need to appear at a hearing at the Registry of Motor Vehicles to contest the timing and length of the resulting driver’s license suspension(s). If the hearing outcome is not favorable, you have the right to appeal the Registrar’s decision to the Board of Appeal. The Board has the authority to review the RMV action and order the adjustment of suspensions and revocations in accordance with the law.

The Boston Branch of the Mass. RMV is Moving!

OWithin the next month, the Boston Branch of the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles is slated to move to from 630 Washington Street to its new home at 136 Blackstone Street in Boston. The Registry’s telephone numbers will remain the same. You can continue to reach customer service a 857-368-8000 and the suspension unit at 857-368-8200.

The Registry’s new location is owned by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and this move will save the state millions in real estate costs. The new Boston RMV branch will be located on the second and third floors of the MassDOT’s “Parcel 7” building, which is located next to the Rose Kennedy Greenway.

Parking at the Registry’s new Boston location is expected to be a nightmare. The building contains its own parking garage. However, that garage only has 310 parking spaces which are accessible to the public. It is within walking distance to the Haymarket MBTA Station. The telephone number for the parking garage is (617) 973-6954.

The Boston Public Market will occupy the first floor of the building in 2015. This will feature fruits, vegetables, and other nutritious foods.

The Registry’s Special Investigations Unit, which conducts license fraud hearings and investigations, will remain at the State Transportation Building, 10 Park Plaza and the Registry’s Ignition Interlock Unit will remain at 25 Newport Avenue Extension in Quincy.  All ignition interlock violation hearings will continue to be heard at the Quincy location.

The Registry will conduct license suspension, hardship license, and reinstatement hearings at the Blackstone Street branch and it will be the only location in Massachusetts where you can appear for a chemical test refusal suspension, which must  be held within 15 days of your breathalyzer refusal suspension.

Mass. JOL Violations & License Suspensions

If the Registry has suspended your license due to a JOL violation, it is illegal for you to operate a motor vehicle until your license is fully reinstated. Also, the RMV can legally combine JOL offenses with any other prior and future motor vehicle offenses to determine impose new suspensions or reinstatement  requirements. The Mass. RMV states that you must serve JOL license suspensions even if you have since reached 18 years of age and are no longer the holder of a JOL.

If you are found responsible for speeding while on a JOL, the RMV will suspend your license for 90 days for a first offense, pursuant to G.L c. 90 § 20. Absent a successful appeal, MassDOT will not reinstate your license until you complete the Attitude Retraining Program, serve the entire suspension, pay the $500.00 reinstatement fee and pass written and road exams. The RMV will also require you to pass the State Courts Against Road Rage (SCARR) program if you have not already done so in the past.

You must provide proof of completing the NSC Attitude Retraining and SCARR programs to a Registry Hearing Officer when you reinstate. You cannot get your license reinstated if you have not taken the classes, even if you have served your suspension time.

You have a right to request a hearing on the suspension with an RMV Hearing Officer. If you appealed the citation in the District Court and you won the appeal, you should bring a certified motor vehicle abstract from the Clerk of Courts to your RMV hearing. Without the abstract, the citation record is deemed to be correct.

According to the Registry, you are not eligible for a hardship license or any driving privileges while suspended. However, the Board of Appeal does have the ability to grant a hardship license. No appeal will delay the suspension, which will not be postponed. The Registry holds hearings on a walk-in basis from 9:00AM-4:30PM weekdays (except holidays) at RMV offices in Brockton, Worcester, Springfield, Lawrence, and at the Driver Control Unit in Boston.

Surchargeable Events & Mass. Car Insurance

Unlike some other states, Massachusetts requires that every vehicle on the road to be covered by a minimum amount of insurance. Letting your insurance policy lapse will result in the automatic revocation of your vehicle’s registration and an operating an uninsured motor vehicle conviction will cause the Registry of Motor Vehicles to suspend your driver’s license. Therefore, the Mass. RMV does not require SR-22 insurance certificates, as every vehicle registered in Massachusetts is required to have insurance.

The Massachusetts Safe Driver Insurance Plan (SDIP) is used by some companies to set your insurance premiums based on steps. Under this plan, which has been approved by the Massachusetts Division of Insurance, if you receive automobile law violations, DUI convictions, or at fault accident surcharges, your insurance premium will increase. Likewise, years of incident free driving may lower your step and resulting automobile insurance bill.

Under the SDIP, Step 9 is the lowest and Step 15 is considered the “neutral step,” where neither credits nor charges are applied. For every surchargeable accident or traffic violation, a minimum of 2 and a maximum of 5 steps will be assigned. Major violations such as operating under the influence convictions can result in a 5 step increase, which represents a major increase in the amount you will pay for car insurance in Massachusetts.

When calculating your car insurance rate in Massachusetts, it is illegal for an insurance company to consider any surchargeable accident or motor vehicle offense which resulted in a conviction or surcharge that is more than 6 years prior to the effective date of the insurance policy.

It is also illegal for Massachusetts insurance companies to increase your insurance premiums for surchargeable accidents or moving violation convictions which are more than 5 years old.

Insurance companies can develop their own merit rating plans and, so long as their plans are approved by the Division of Insurance, they are not required to use the SDIP. Regardless of whether your company uses the SDIP or its own plan, tickets and surchargeable events will generally cause  your insurance bill to increase and the premiums for those with a DUI conviction can be substantial.

Surchargeable events include at fault accidents, DUI drug or alcohol program assignments, and responsible findings or convictions for motor vehicle law violations such as speeding or driving while suspended. Insurance companies use these events to increase your premiums and the Registry uses them to impose license suspensions such as those for 7 surchargeable events.

The Massachusetts Merit Rating Board maintains records which are used to determine your insurance premium. You and your lawyer have the legal right to inspect these records to ensure their accuracy.  If you need legal assistance in dealing with a surchargeable event suspension, I urge you to contact my office for a free review of your case.