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Can You Protect Yourself From Dangerous Drivers in Massachusetts?

In Hingham, Massachusetts last week, a 41-year-old man with 10 prior license suspensions, was allegedly operating a motor vehicle under influence of alcohol when he crossed over the double yellow line and struck another vehicle, seriously injuring the two people in the other vehicle and himself. Police found open containers of alcohol in the vehicle.

The negligent Massachusetts driver allegedly had 16 speeding tickets on his record and was involved in five prior motor vehicle collisions in Massachusetts. Further, the driver had other serious violations including violation of open container, driving to endanger, and defaults. He may be considered a habitual traffic offender in Massachusetts.
 
What laws protect us from these drivers?
 
A first offense for operating under the influence conviction will result in up to 90-day loss of license. It can also carry incarceration in the county house of detention for up to 2 ½ years. Usually, however, there is a plea to the alternative disposition, which is 45 days of loss of license, a drug/alcohol class and fines. In the case above, while it was a first offense for driving under the influence, because of the collision and the prior record, the judge may not agree to a plea to the minimum offense policy. Thus, we are not very well protected, but then again, it’s his first offense.
 
The second offense for operating under the influence is 60 days to 2 ½ years in incarceration, fines, suspended license for 2 years (a work hardship license available after 1 year). However, if the driver refuses the Breathalyzer they are not usually able to get a hardship license. Also, there is the new “interlock” device for convicted drivers. However, again, there is the “alternative disposition” which is 2 years of probation, 14 days in a confined alcohol treatment program, license suspension for 2 years, the interlock device. However, if the first offense was more than 10 years from the second defense, the driver may be entitled to only the penalties of the first offense.
 
Third offense operating under the influence drivers face a mandatory 5-6 months in jail and a license suspension of up to 8 years, with a work license in 4 years. A fourth offense includes jail time of 2 years, which, in Massachusetts means you serve one year.
 
A conviction for driving to endanger will result in a 60-day loss of license and up to 2 year jail sentence. But not usually; these folks don’t serve any significant time in jail unless there are injuries associated with the offense. In a case where we represented the family of a Massachusetts wrongful death victim the negligent driver only got 18 months incarcerated even though he had a significant driving violation history.
 
Other penalties by the Department of Motor Vehicles include: three speeding tickets within one 12 month period will result in a suspension for 30 days. If a driver has three surchargeable events within a 24 month period, s/he has to comply with the DMV regulations to avoid suspension. Compliance includes taking the Driver Retraining Course. If a driver has five surchargeable events within a 3 year period triggers a suspension, but again, a driver need only take the class and a license can be reinstated. Only when there are 7 surchargable events within a 3 year period is there a mandatory loss of license – for 60 days.
 
The news, perhaps, for the Hingham driver, is that there is a statute called the Massachusetts Habitual Traffic Offender.
 
Habitual offender violations results in a 4-year revocation of license — if there is an accumulation of three “major” moving violations, or a combination of 12 major and minor moving violations and includes violations in other states.
Are we protected? No law stops the one time someone makes a mistake that injures or kills a loved one, but perhaps the seriousness with which Massachusetts treats habitual offenders needs to be reevaluated.