“Failure to Stop” vs. “Refusal to Stop” in Massachusetts

State Highway Safety Director Sheila Burgess is receiving sharp criticism from Massachusetts media outlets regarding her driving record. The stories point out the hypocrisy of putting someone with an allegedly poor driving record in charge of highway safety in Massachusetts. Without weighing in on the merits of the issue, one way or another, I did want to point out that the media might not be completely accurate in its characterization of her record.

Specifically, it has been repeatedly reported that Ms. Burgess’ record contains two entries for “failure to stop for a police officer.” Pursuant to G.L. c. 90 § 25, this is a criminal offense. It is often confused for running a red light, a much less serious civil infraction.

I believe that the source of the confusion can be traced to how citations are entered at the Merit Rating Board, as these entries appear on a person’s driving record. If someone is charged with the criminal offense of refusing to stop for a police officer, after being signaled to do so, the charge will appears as “REFUSE OBEY POLICE,” on the person’s driving record. If someone is cited for running a red light or stop sign, the infraction will appear on the driving record as “FAILURE TO STOP.”

I have not seen Ms. Burgess’ record. However, I know that failure to stop and refusal to obey a police officer are often confused and I suspect that is what is happening here.