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Right to Operate vs. Driver’s License

Massachusetts Registry News

Clients who have received suspension or revocation notices from MassDOT who have never been licensed in Massachusetts will often ask how the Registry of Motor Vehicles can revoke a license which it never issued. The answer is that that the RMV is not necessarily revoking the person’s driver’s license. Instead, the Registry is revoking the individual’s right to operate motor vehicles in Massachusetts, which is different from his or her driver’s license.

This situation may occur when, for whatever reason, a Massachusetts resident never goes through the process of taking the written exam, obtaining a learner’s permit, passing the road test and being granted a driver’s license. If a conviction which triggers a license revocation occurs, the person’s right to operate will be revoked. This means that if the individual is found operating a motor vehicle, he or she will be charged with operating after suspension or revocation, in violation of G.L. c. 90 Sec. 23.

Once someone’s right to operate is revoked or suspended, that individual will be prevented from being issued a driver’s license in Massachusetts or any other state until the suspension or revocation has been resolved and released by the Registry.

The Registry also revokes rights to operate in Massachusetts in cases where the driver is the holder of a license from another state. The Massachusetts RMV lacks the legal authority to revoke the out of state license. However, it can revoke the non-resident’s right to drive in Massachusetts. Because of the National Driver Register, this revocation will likely carry over to the individual’s home state and his or her motor vehicle department may take action against the license in that state.

Whenever a license or right to operate is suspended or revoked in Massachusetts, the individual who has lost his driving privileges has the legal right to appeal the adverse action to the Registry’s Driver Control Unit and to the Board of Appeal of the Division of Insurance. These agencies have the ability to restore and reinstate both driving privileges and licenses. However, restoration can only occur after there has been either a Registry or Board hearing. Anyone seeking reinstatement is entitled to be represented by counsel.

In some cases, a full reinstatement is not possible. Depending on the individual’s driving record and the suspension reason, it may be possible to obtain a work or hardship license. In these situations, if the appellant has never held a license, any hardship relief would be conditioned on the appellant passing a written examination and road test. Those who have never held Massachusetts licenses cannot obtain hardship relief without first going before the Board of Appeal and obtaining a Finding and Order which directs the Registry to grant the license.

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