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.

The Massachusetts Safe Driving Bill

There is legislation currently being considered in Massachusetts which would allow illegal aliens who are residing in Massachusetts to legally obtain driver’s licenses. This bill, Massachusetts House Bill 3285,  is scheduled for a public hearing at the Statehouse on February 5th at 11:00 AM and the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition strongly supports the proposed legislation, which is known as the Safe Driving Bill.

If the legislation passes, Massachusetts will join 11 states other states, Puerto Rico, and Washington D.C which allow residents to obtain valid driver’s licenses regardless of the resident’s immigration status. Currently illegal immigrants can obtain licenses in Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Puerto Rico, California, Washington State, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico to name a few states.

From a practical standpoint, many of these illegal immigrants are driving anyways and this bill would allow them to get valid licenses after undergoing written and road tests, to insure that they can drive safely. However, there are concerns regarding issuing licenses to those who may have suspensions, revocations, or long driving records in their home countries.

Currently, those without legal status in the United States are denied licenses in Massachusetts because the Mass. Registry requires driver’s license and learner’s permit applicants to provide a valid social security number or a denial letter issued by the U.S. Social Security Administration. Applicants who submit denial letters must prove their immigration status by presenting an I-94 Record of Arrival & Departure, a current non-U.S. Passport, and proof of the applicant’s visa status. If House Bill 3285 is enacted, the Registry of Motor Vehicles will not be able to deny a Massachusetts resident a driver’s license due to the lack of a social security number or legal immigration status.

Passage of the Mass. Safe Driver Act will reduce the number of license fraud cases in Massachusetts, as these cases are often the result of a person applying for a Mass. license with a fraudulent social security number.

Surchargeable Accidents and your Driver’s License

In Massachusetts, an accident is considered surchargeable if you were more than 50% at fault. Surchargeable accidents will count towards 7 surchargeable events license suspensions and they are likely result in future car insurance premium increases.

How much an at fault accident will increase your insurance rates depends on the rules and rating factors your insurance company has on file with the Division of Insurance. Most insurance companies assign a fixed number of points for each type of at-fault accident or traffic violation,and the total point value is used to determine a percentage increase to the premium for the policy. At-fault accidents may affect future insurance premiums for 3-5 years.

In many instances your Massachusetts automobile insurance premium will increase if you are found to be at-fault in an accident. However, Mass. law prohibits insurance companies from increasing your rates premium based on surchargebale accidents or traffic violations that occurred more than five years prior to your policy effective date.

In Massachusetts, courts ultimately determine who is at fault in a car accident. However, there are presumptions which your insurance company can use to impose surcharges. For example, if you rear-end another vehicle, you will be presumed to be more than 50% at fault. Likewise, in a single car accident, the operator will be presumed to be at fault and receive a surcharge.

When your insurance company finds you at fault in an accident, you will receive a surcharge notice. If you are at-fault in an accident with more than $500.00 in damages, your insurance company will notify the Massachusetts Merit Rating Board and the accident will appear on your driving record. With this happens, the RMV will count the accident towards 7 surchargeable event suspensions. It will not count towards habitual traffaic offender revocations.

You have the legal right to appeal a surchargeable accident to the Board of Appeal at the Division of Insurance. You must file your appeal within thirty (30) days of the surcharge date. Filing an appeal does not prevent your insurance company from increasing your insurance rate. However, if the Board of Appeal vacates the surcharge, your insurance company is legally required to refund any monies paid as a result of the premium increase caused by the fault determination.

The hearing is informal and public, and typically lasts 20 to 30 minutes. The Hearing Officer will make an audio tape recording of the hearing. You or your representative and the insurance company representative will each be given an opportunity to present all pertinent information.

You are entitled to call witnesses and you may ask questions of the insurance company’s representative. You are entitled to be represented by counsel. To reverse a surcharge, your testimony and evidence presented must overcome the presumption of fault. If you prevail, the Registry will remove the surchargeable accident from your Massachusetts driving record.

If the Board’s decision is unfavorable, you can appeal to Superior Court, within 30 days of receipt of the adverse finding.

You Have 20 Days to Appeal a Civil Motor Vehicle Infraction

calendarI have been getting some inquiries from people who have been cited for motor vehicle infractions and they appear to have legitimate defenses to the violations. However, they were found responsible because they failed to file their appeals within the required 20 day appeal period or pay the required $25.00 filing fee.

In Massachusetts, if you want to exercise your right to appeal a citation for civil infractions, you must do so within 20 days of your receipt of the citation. You can appeal by sending the citation to the Registry using the envelope provided by the police officer who issued you the citation. For your citation appeal to be docketed, you must pay the required $25.00 filing fee. The failure to pay the appeal fee may result in your appeal not being processed and you will lose you right to contest the citation.

Traffic tickets in Massachusetts can result in the imposition of license suspensions such as a 4 year habitual traffic offender revocation or a 60 day 7 surchargeable event suspension. Therefore, it is important to appeal if you were unjustly cited. Also, a responsible finding on a traffic citation may result in an increase in your automobile insurance premium.

Failing to file a timely citation appeal can result in unforeseen consequences such as the loss of your driver’s license and an increase in your car insurance rates.

The 20 day appeal period applies only to citations where the “all civil infractions” box is checked and there is a monetary fine amount listed. If the “criminal complaint application” box is checked on the citation, you only have four (4) days to appeal. You can do this by checking off the box on the citation indicating that you are requesting a hearing and signing the citation. You must then bring the citation to the Clerk-Magistrate’s office of the District Court which has jurisdiction over the location where the automobile law violation was alleged to have occurred.

If you fail to send the criminal complaint citation to the appropriate Clerk-Magistrate’s Office within 4 days, you will lose your right to a Clerk-Magistrate hearing and your case will likely be scheduled for an arraignment.

If you have received a citation for a criminal offense, meaning that the “criminal complaint application” box is checked, you should contact a lawyer to discuss your options and legal representation.