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Who Taught YOU to Drive?

Pending legislation for Mass. drivers

Most drivers know that the Registry of Motor Vehicles can refuse to renew your license or registration if you have unpaid parking tickets. What isn’t so well known is that the Registry grants you one free pass, meaning you could have an unpaid ticket on your record for years without ever having to ante up.

Just how many years? Well, last summer I wrote about Marlborough reader Ed Testa, who rode his free pass for a full 20 years before he got a second ticket and finally had to pay.

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The “2 unpaid” rule is actually mandated by state law — for the moment.

Our state Legislature reviews dozens, if not hundreds, of driving-related bills each year. Sure enough, a proposal — Senate Bill 1779 — that called for the elimination of such free passes, presumably to boost state revenues, was filed in January.

All good things must come to an end, you’re guessing. Well, last month, the Joint Committee on Transportation recommend further “study” on Senate Bill 1779, which means it is pretty much dead — and the free pass lives on!

Other suggested legislative changes tackle everything from idling times to the helmet law.

The small red heart at the bottom of my driver’s license denotes that I’m a registered organ donor. But what else, potentially, could my license reveal about me?

Could it say whether I’m a veteran, a diabetic, or a repeat drunk driver? Whether I’ve approved a do-not-resuscitate order? Or am suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder? Bills to include such information have all been proposed recently, though only the veteran-related bill has progressed.  

Speaking of licenses, more than 139,500 drivers have signed up for e-mailed renewal reminders, according to the Registry’s website. But not everyone’s so keen about technology: House Bill 2648, filed by Representative Louis Kafka of Stoughton, would require the Registry to continue using the US mail to inform drivers when their license is about to expire.

And then there’s Senate Bill 1743, which would deny learner’s permits and driver’s licenses to minors who are truant, or have dropped out of school. Gives the phrase “driver’s ed” a whole new meaning.

Motorcycle riders in New Hampshire don’t need to wear helmets. Why should they have all the fun?

That’s the gist of Senate Bill 1726, which would do away with the Bay State’s helmet law for bikers over age 18. Senate Bill 1749, meanwhile, would exempt any “nonresident motorcyclist or passenger of a motorcycle that is registered in a state that does not require persons to wear a motorcycle helmet.” In other words, New Hampshire bikers wouldn’t have to strap on a helmet when they cross the border.

I liked one provision of Senate Bill 1728, which would have allowed either motorcyclists or motorists to cautiously proceed through intersections during those rare times when a light is clearly stuck on red. But the bill hasn’t garnered support.

Massachusetts is on a mission to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with a statewide goal of cutting total emissions by 80 percent by 2050. 

Senate Bill 2171, “An act relative to vehicle idling,” is meant to bolster that effort by cutting the maximum time you can let your car idle to 3 minutes from 5 minutes.   House Bill 907 goes even further, setting the limit at 2 minutes. Neither bill is close to a floor vote.

There’s also Senate Bill 1784, which calls for the state to “examine the possibility of removing all traffic signs that read ‘no turn on red’ ” in order to “prevent unnecessary vehicle idling.” But that bill, excuse the pun, has stalled out.

In the last year, bills have come and gone for increasing fines for illegally parking in a handicapped spot (from a minimum $100 to at least $150), for failing to stop for a police officer who’s pursing you (to $10,000), and for failing to buckle up your children (from $25 per child to $100). 

Still on the table: a bill that would levy a $1,000 fine on junior operators found in possession of drugs or alcohol.

House Bill 3993 is one of my favorites. It calls for junior operators and learner’s permit holders to clearly display a Registry-issued decal on their cars denoting their lack of driving experience.

This made sense to me on a few levels. Inexperienced drivers don’t always behave the way you’d expect on the road, so it would help to know who they are. If you know someone is inexperienced, you’ll probably drive less aggressively around them, too.

You could create a similar decal for older drivers who are not comfortable in the fast pace of daily traffic. Though to avoid discrimination arguments, such a decal would be displayed voluntarily.

Alas, House 3993 was sent out for further study this month.  

In a previous column I mentioned a bill that would give Massachusetts members of the US Olympic team their own registration plate. But that’s just one of several suggested plate changes.

Bills have been proposed that would give firefighters who drive motorcycles their own plate (Senate Bill 1720); create a new “school spirit” plate to benefit public education (Senate Bill 1800); and allow special plates — such as the Red Sox charity plate — to be affixed to commercial vehicles (Senate Bill 1802).  

That last bill has a chance of gaining momentum, as it would also expand special plates to motorcycles, creating two new revenue streams for charities.

There’s also been strong support in the early going for Senate Bill 2387, which would allow non-alphanumeric symbols as part of a registration plate number.

Lastly, a note for my Uncle Jack, who got pulled over for failing to have his headlights on while driving in the rain in Maine.

Massachusetts doesn’t have such a blanket law: Here, drivers are required to turn on their headlights only when “visibility is reduced by atmospheric conditions so as to render dangerous further operation.” 

Senate Bill 1744 called for Massachusetts to adopt Maine’s more stringent rule, but, like most of the bills we’ve reviewed, it’s an idea whose time has not yet come.

Peter DeMarco can be reached at demarco@globe.com.
His Facebook page is “Who Taught You to Drive?” and
his Twitter account is @whotaughtU2driv.  

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