My office recently received this information from a family who was involved in a traffic accident while on vacation in Florida. The Registry has determined that careless driving in the State of Florida is sufficiently similar to negligent operation in Massachusetts, so that it triggers license suspensions here in Massachusetts. This occurs even though carless driving is a civil infraction and negligent operation is considered a criminal offense.
Never in my wildest dreams would I expect to need legal help but injustice does not choose it seems. Last November we went on a family vacation to Florida. We rented a car online and when we got there we were presented with a small and flimsy looking vehicle – Chevy Aveo. Since it is just the 3 of us (2 adults and a 7-year-old) and not all that much driving to be done, we just went with it. After a few days in Disney we had to drive to my husband’s father’s place for Thanksgiving. It was November 21. On the way we got off the highway once for a bathroom stop.
As we were getting out of some Wendy’s parking lot onto the street (not highway yet), we had to cross a few lanes to go to the other side (to turn around and get back on the highway). The light was red and not many cars were coming so we could go to get ourselves in line on the other side for when the light turns green. We were driving very slowly, barely moving. Suddenly we hit a car in the left lane. The blind spot in this car was awful and my husband simply did not notice the car in the left lane. The other car (Escalade) was also barely moving so we basically just bumped into one another. We called the police. The lady in the other car was very nice, and so was the police officer. We ended up with a dent on the rental’s door and on the lady’s car’s bumper. It was not a great thing to have happen while on vacation but it was just a fender bender and everybody just drove away. We got a ticket which we paid as soon as we returned home. We figured we will get 3 points for the minor at-fault accident and some insurance rate increase and move on. And then last Wednesday, my husband got a letter from RMV saying that his license is being revoked for 60 days as a result of a criminal conviction.
This came as a complete shock but we figured it is so unreasonable that it has to be a mistake and a call to the 800 number will straighten things out. The person on the phone told us to go to a hearing at a local RMV, which we did first thing Thursday morning. There it turned out that the suspension is legal and will take effect, just as it states. We were given a form to appeal the whole thing with the BOA. It takes at least 30 days to get to the appeal – in the meantime my husband is being falsely punished and my family’s life is greatly disturbed (by technical difficulties as well as emotional distress). Even worse than having to wait so long for the appeal is the fact that we have no guarantee of winning it because there seems to be a huge legal misunderstanding on the part of the Massachusetts RMV.
I spoke to the Florida policeman from the precinct that issued our ticket, did some research of my own regarding Florida Statute 316.1925, Careless Driving. Section 1 defines what constitutes a violation of the statute, and Section 2 states that a violation of Section 1 constitutes a moving violation.
The policeman said that “Careless Driving” is a catch-all in Florida and issued routinely. When a driver is involved in an accident (even a tiny fender bender!) which was not a major event, meaning that was not the result of running a red light or stop sign, of making an illegal turn, of following too closely, or some other such violation, chances are the officer will cite them for careless driving because the elements under the statute merely require the allegation that the operator was not driving his or her vehicle in a “careful and prudent manner” given the circumstances on the roadway.
I fully understand that the Massachusetts License Suspension Law, G.L. c. 90 § 22(c) states that if a Massachusetts licensed driver is convicted in another state of a motor vehicle violation, the Mass RMV is required to treat the conviction as if it had occurred here in Massachusetts. The Registry has, however, incorrectly interpreted this legal requirement to mean that the Florida offense of “careless driving” should be treated as a conviction for “negligent operation” in Massachusetts. Mass Registry of Motor Vehicles unjustly suspends such person’s driver’s license for 60 days and counts it against the person under the Massachusetts Habitual Traffic Offender Law which is simply wrong. This is an INCORRECT and UNJUST interpretation of the Florida statute by Massachusetts authorities!!!! Florida police officers routinely issue citations for careless driving. There are MAJOR legal differences between the Florida Careless Driving violation and the Massachusetts Negligent Operation offense. Why are they being treated as equal by Mass RMV?
We feel that this is an incorrect and frankly illegal interpretation done by the state of Massachusetts that is causing our family unnecessary distress. Don’t get me wrong – I am all for suspending licenses for reckless/negligent drivers – I see them daily on my commute to and from work. It’s just that my husband’s situation is not such case. A clean record at 41-years-old and then a tiny fender bender while on vacation… and we are in a nightmare from which we cannot wake up. We admit that my husband did bump into that lady’s car (it was an accident!). What we deserve is to get 3 points for a Minor at-fault accident (claim of $500 to $2,000) and not all this criminal treatment at 7 points, license being revoked, fines, penalties… being worse off than having been charged with a DUI. Florida careless driving is a non-criminal civil traffic infraction; it is only a financial issue and not what Massachusetts is making it into.
Until our hearing (which will be God knows when) our lives are a total mess – my husband with no license and a treatment of a common criminal – 7 points and a fee of $1200 to get the license reinstated. Overall worse off than if it was a DUI citation because drunk drivers can get a hardship license to drive to and from work! And it was a little fender bender while on vacation… in a bad rental car… in unfamiliar surroundings. Perfect context for a little fender bender to happen. Even to a person with a perfect driving record – which is the case of my husband.
Here is the narrative from the accident report:
V2 was traveling in the left through lane on westbound W Lake Mary Blvd. V1 exited eastbound I-4 to eastbound W Lake Mary Blvd. V1 was in the center through lane as it was approaching the intersection at Lake Emma Rd. V1 attempted to change lanes to the left through lane. V1 struck V2 as it changed lanes. Driver of V1 stated he did not see V2. Driver of V2 stated V1 changed lanes in front of her. There were no reported injuries. Both drivers refused medical treatment.
The damage to V2 is approximately $1500. The damage to V1 is approximately $3500. Both vehicles were removed by the driver. Driver of V1 was cited for careless driving.
In the accident report the officer estimated damages at insane amounts of $3500 and $1500. No idea where he got those numbers from but the Escalade bumper was already fully paid for by Allstate Insurance at a total of $641. Hertz still did not file the $ amount but take a look at the attached pictures of our rental car damage. Just a dent. Obviously this was just tapped by that Escalade at very low speeds or else my family would be a human marmalade in an Aveo can. No damage inside the door or to the hinge. Just a dent in the driver’s door’s outer panel. It was 2011 Chevy Aveo – this model is no longer made and the entire car was worth very little even as new so the door’s outer panel must be minor $.
The light was red, everybody was barely moving and the car was in my husband’s blind spot so we slightly bumped into one another. That’s all it was. We should get 3 points for a Minor at-fault accident (claim of $500 to $2,000) and not get a label of a road criminal.
Cases of this nature should be taken to the Board of Appeal. Contact a lawyer if you are facing a Mass. license suspension under similar circumstances.