Articles Posted in Motor Vehicle Offenses

Governor Charlie Baker filed a bill this past Wednesday adopting a state panel’s recommendations to deal with police stops of drivers suspected of being impaired due to cannabis use. Even though I’m a very serious safety advocate, as a Massachusetts OUI/DWI attorney, I have one major objection to this bill, as presently written.

The Special Commission on Impaired Driving, which is part of the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission was created within the law that legalized recreational marijuana use. It made 19 recommendations that were almost passed unanimously, with the one dissenter on the commission being the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). I don’t normally agree with the ACLU on a variety of legal issues, but as a Massachusetts drugged driving lawyer I believe the ACLU’s objection here is sound. Essentially, that objection is based in scientific research that has fairly convincingly established three important points: 1) While marijuana does impair operating a motor vehicle, the level of impairment is closer to distracted driving – far less than the impairment posed by drunk driving; 2) Currently, no medical or scientific tests exist which can accurately measure a driver’s level of impairment while using marijuana, in the manner that a breathalyzer can measure with alcohol. That’s because there is no clinical correlation between the level of THC in a person’s bloodstream (cannabis’ main psychoactive compound) and a level of impairment. Most experts say that such tests are most likely three to five years away from commercial use. 3) Presently, any blood tests for cannabis can only reveal past marijuana use, not present impairment. THC remains in the bloodstream for days after use – thus, you could be blood-tested for pot use today, not have used it for several previous days, and yet it would appear “present” in your blood test. This could lead to innocent people who were not impaired at all by pot while driving, being convicted and punished.

This is extremely important because, under the bill’s proposals, if drivers who are stopped by police and suspected of being stoned, refuse police demands for a biological (blood) test, they would lose their driver’s licenses for at least six months – the same penalty for suspected drunk drivers that refuse to take a breathalyzer test. On this point, the Massachusetts ACLU chapter has commented that “Motorists shouldn’t be faced with losing their license for refusal to submit to a test that does not measure impairment,” That point, I agree with. However, as the ACLU is want to do, they also stated, “In addition, this [penalty of six month loss of drivers license if a driver refused a chemical test for pot] could exacerbate the problem of racial disparities in enforcement.” That point, I disagree with (one more example of the ACLU never seeing a public safety law that it didn’t oppose.)

So many times when driving around, I ask myself, ”What is wrong with people these days?  Are they just plain stupid, homicidal or suicidal?”  I’m referring, of course, to the widespread and outrageously growing habit of texting while driving.

On a clinical level of mental health, I wonder what new, modern mental illness will soon be named to describe people who do this.  “Subconsciously suicidal ideation?”  “Pre-homicidal aggression?”  Or how about calling a spade a spade, and just calling it for what it is:  Idiotic.  Truly, as a Boston car accident lawyer, I have seen an alarming spike in the number of serious Massachusetts motor vehicle accident injuries that have been cause by people texting and driving – or talking on their cell phones while driving. It’s almost unfathomable that drivers would risk their own lives, their families’ lives, and the lives of others, to read a ridiculous text message, or answer a phone call. Continue reading

I’ve lived in Massachusetts my whole life.  I’ve been driving since I was able to get my learner’s permit at age 16 (no, I won’t tell you what year that was…)  The point being, I know what it’s like to drive in Massachusetts – and for anyone reading this from the Bay State, you know:  It isn’t pretty.  Why this is so has been the subject of both serious speculation and jokes (including the well-earned moniker of “Massholes” to describe most Massachusetts drivers.)

It used to be true that other parts of the country (with the possible exception of drivers in New York City,) were much tamer and more civil.  But this problem is no longer two things:  1) It’s no longer funny – it can be downright life-threatening; and 2) It’s no longer confined to Massachusetts.  Like a metastasizing cancer, road rage has rapidly spread to other parts of the country – places where it was rarely experienced in years past. Continue reading

We all see the occasional reports that come out by various organizations, listing “Best Places To Live,” “Best Companies to Work For,” and many other kinds of lists.

Allstate Insurance Co. just released a report listing the best & worst 200 cities in the U.S. when it comes motor vehicle drivers.  Care to know where Boston came in?  200th.  Yes, you read that correctly: 200th out of 200 of the worst cities in the U.S., when it comes to motor vehicle drivers.  Number 199 out of the worst 200?  Worcester, Mass.

What an ignominious distinction.  Shamefully, it is well-known.  (In fact, you’ll pardon my French as they say, but Massachusetts drivers are commonly referred to by drivers in other states as “Massholes.”)  What is it about Massachusetts drivers that make us so horrible on the road?  It would be one thing if we landed, say 100th out of 200, or somewhere in the middle of the list – but the worst on a list of 200 U.S.. cities?   This is downright awful.  As a Massachusetts Operating to Endanger lawyer, I see these cases every day:  Extreme speeding, Driving to Endanger, Negligent Operation of a Motor Vehicle, Massachusetts Immediate Threat Suspensions.   These criminal charges can be very serious.  The car accident injuries that result from this behavior are often very severe, and can change someone’s life forever. Continue reading

As a Dedham, Massachusetts motor vehicle violations lawyer, I’ve been watching the Haverhill District Court trial of Aaron Deveau, age 18. Deveau was on trial for Motor Vehicle Homicide By Negligent Operation, following the February 2011death of a man, Daniel Bowley of New Hampshire, in a car crash that police and investigators say was caused because Deveau was texting while driving. Actually, there were two separate criminal counts against Deveau: Negligent Motor Vehicle Homicide, and Texting while Driving.

It is the Texting While Driving charge that has generated all the attention, because it is the first criminal prosecution of the state’s relatively new law that went into effect in September 2010, which bans teens from texting while driving. Known as the Safe Driver Law, the law was enacted to deal with the growing prevalence of teenage drivers who are tethered to their cell phones and smart phones, many of whom think nothing of texting while driving. In essence, the Commonwealth was linking the two counts causally, saying that the Negligent Motor Vehicle Homicide occurred because Deveau was texting while driving. The texting while driving law prohibits any Junior Operator from using any type of mobile communications device, whether to text or phone, while driving. Penalties for this offense are:

• 1st offense: $100 fine, 60 day license suspension, & attitudinal course

As a Boston/Dedham motor vehicle violations lawyer, I caution my clients all the time about how important it is to practice driver safety. There is no more worse sound than that of steel and glass from one vehicle hitting another with powerful impact.

In Everett yesterday, the air was filled with not one but two car crashes. A Revere man is being charged with four different counts of Massachusetts driving violations. They are: Driving after license suspension in Massachusetts; Driving an unregistered vehicle in Massachusetts; Failing to stop for police in Massachusetts; and being a Habitual Traffic Offender in Massachusetts.

The man in question, Jorge Palma of Revere, is being charged with allegedly rear-ending a State Police cruiser in Revere, early this morning, Sunday, May 27th. Apparently Mr. Palma hit the cruiser, then attempted to flee the scene, only, moments later, to hit a second car. The incident in question occurred on Route One in Revere.

This isn’t exactly breaking news, but it’s something worth reminding my readers of. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) recently handed down a ruling on a challenge to the state imposing a fee to get a hearing on a motor vehicle offense or traffic violation.

Drivers seeking to appeal a citation in front of a Clerk-Magistrate have been charged a $25.00 fee since July 1, 2009. If the hearing results in an adverse finding and the driver wishes to appeal the Clerk’s finding to a District Court judge, there is an additional $50.00 fine. Prior to July 1 2009, drivers could secure a hearing before a Clerk-Magistrate for free, and appeals to a judge after a Clerk’s hearing cost only a $20 fee. The state imposed the new fees as part of a sweeping set of new “revenue-enhancement” measures in 2009. (Translation: New taxes.) A lawyer challenged the new hearing fees, arguing that the fees violated his constitutional right to equal protection. He argued an equal protection violation due to the fact that people who contest traffic violations are treated differently from people contesting other civil infractions, such as tickets for smoking in public places and for possession of an ounce of marijuana or less.

Unfortunately, the SJC ruled that drivers who challenge traffic tickets enjoy “significantly greater” procedural safeguards than people who challenge other civil violations, and hence the court found no equal protection violation. These greater procedural protections include the right to subpoena witnesses, the right to be heard by a Clerk-magistrate, and the right to a new hearing before a judge, if the violator is found against by a clerk-magistrate. Justifying the fee, the SJC wrote that these safeguards impose “greater demands on the resources of the District Court,” that approximately 700,000 drivers are cited each year for civil vehicular traffic violations, that approximately 200,000 of those drivers seek hearings, and that those increased administrative demands justify the fees.

Now a few days old, the new Massachusetts Anti-Texting Law, (St. 2010, C. 155, “Safe Driving Law”,) stands out as Exhibit Number One (among many Exhibits) of how the Massachusetts Legislature goes about attempting to “solve” what is clearly a problem in this state: Electronically distracted drivers. There is absolutely zero doubt in my mind as to the seriousness of this problem. Distracted drivers (“distracted” in this post means distracted due to use of cell phones and text devices,) are as dangerous and lethal as drunk drivers. I’ve seen more idiots behind the wheel, thinking that they can actually dial a cell phone or text and still drive safely. Note to such idiots: You’re operating two tons of steel and glass, moving at speeds that can easily kill and maim (a car moving as slow as 10MPH can easily kill someone, never mind 40, 50, and 60MPH.)

Even the shallow minds that occupy the Legislature couldn’t deny the danger presented by this lethal habit — so was their response to craft an effective, balanced measure that would make practical sense in the real world? Of course not – this is the Legislature, where, shall we say, the atom has never been split, and never will be. No, instead they passed this measure – signed into law by Governor Patrick – which actually claims to be able to legitimately outlaw texting – while keeping dialing and talking on a cell phone – the very same devices as used for texting – quite legal. I’ve seen idiocy before, but this law takes the cake. This is about the most unenforceable laws I’ve seen enacted in Massachusetts in a while.

The law – which went into effect September 30, allows police to slap drivers with $100 fines for sending or receiving text messages while behind the wheel – is patently unenforceable. (The penalties are even worse for drivers under age 18.) How in God’s name is a police officer supposed to be able to see so close up to a driver’s hand, to know whether he or she was dialing a phone call or texting a message? The very same devices – a cell phone – do the same thing. An officer may be able to see, from either the side of a road or through a cruiser window, that a driver is using a cell phone keypad, but it is nearly impossible to prove that the driver was not dialing a phone call, but texting. Importantly, a driver doesn’t have to hand over his phone to prove whether he was texting or phoning. (For that, police would need a search warrant – ridiculous to even discuss in such a situation.) So exactly what is an officer or trooper supposed to do once he or she stops a driver who is seen holding and using a cell phone? Answer: Presume the driver was texting, and hit them with a fine. A moron could dodge this law. It’s just ludicrous.