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Who Taught YOU to Drive?

Paying out-of-state tickets, and other borderline tales

An out-of-state driver with a disability placard or plate can park at a meter anywhere in Massachusetts for free.

Callie Lipkin

An out-of-state driver with a disability placard or plate can park at a meter anywhere in Massachusetts for free.

Last September, I wrote about a gamble I took with a speeding ticket. The citation was issued in Maine, which raised the question: Would the violation go on my Massachusetts driving record if I pleaded guilty?

The Registry of Motor Vehicles shares its records electronically with New Hampshire, but doesn’t have such an arrangement with Maine or any other states, at least as far as noncriminal citations, such as speeding tickets, are concerned.

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So, instead of spending a whole day driving back and forth to Maine to wage an appeal (I thought I didn’t deserve the ticket), I paid the fine just to be done with it. But a flicker of doubt remained.

What if an industrious Maine court employee sent a written copy of my ticket to the Massachusetts RMV? What if my insurance company, on a lark, called up every other New England state to check on me? I was assured both by Maine officials and by an insurance expert that these were remote possibilities. Yet not impossible.

The only way for me to know for sure that my ticket would stay in Maine was to wait for my annual car insurance bill to arrive. If my premium remained the same, I’d know that the ticket never got reported to Massachusetts. If my premium jumped, I’d know that I’d lost my gamble, and for the foreseeable future would be paying hundreds more for my yearly coverage.

Since writing my column last fall, I’ve gotten probably a half-dozen e-mails from readers who, like me, were debating whether to appeal out-of-state tickets. What happened with my insurance, they all asked?

Well, my bill finally arrived, and my premium was exactly the same.

‘The citation was issued in Maine, which raised the question: Would the violation go on my Massachusetts driving record if I pleaded guilty?’

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Out of curiosity, I went to the Registry’s website, and paid the $6 fee for an electronic copy of my “Unattested Driving Record.” The printout consisted of a single sentence: “According to the record of the Registry of Motor Vehicles there is no record of any active offense or action for the previous ten years.” My record, indeed, remained clean.

The fact that my speeding ticket stayed in Maine still doesn’t guarantee that the citation you get in Maine, or Connecticut, or Utah, or wherever else, won’t make its way onto your Massachusetts driving record. But certainly, my outcome was consistent with everything I’d been told: that there was little to worry about.

A free pass

Last September, I also wrote about Mark Bell, a Needham reader who’s been lobbying, without success, for Massachusetts to give drivers a free pass in terms of their first moving violation affecting their car insurance rate.

Bell’s argument is that it’s penalty enough to pay the ticket. Having it also count against your annual insurance, he says, is going overboard, especially for a single miscue.

Well, I’m here to tell you that such a free pass does exist. But it applies only to Rhode Island tickets.

Officially, it’s known as Rhode Island’s “Good Driving Record” statute. In short, if you can prove that you’ve had a clean driving record for at least three years, no matter what state you’re from, Rhode Island’s Traffic Tribunal will dismiss your first speeding ticket.

There are some exceptions: Commercial drivers can’t seek a dismissal, and you can’t get a ticket dismissed that involves an encounter with a school bus. Only moderate speeding tickets — those where the driver was clocked within 14 miles per hour of the posted limit — can be waived.

You must have held a driver’s license for at least three years, and you get just one free pass every three years.

But meet the conditions, and you’re in the clear.

Reader Ed Franklin, of Canton, told me about the rule a few weeks ago, after he was stopped for speeding south of the border. Amazingly, the Rhode Island officer who handed him the ticket was the person who told him he could get it dismissed.

Franklin’s court date was Aug. 13. To prove he was a good driver, all he had to do was bring a certified copy of his Massachusetts driving record ($20 from the Registry).

“The rule is for Rhode Island residents . . . but they make it available to everyone, even if you’re out of state. There were [drivers] there from New Hampshire and Vermont, too,” Franklin said. “I was told to be there at 8 a.m. The day’s proceedings began about 8:20. Most of the cases were dismissed in about two or three minutes. I was out by 9 a.m.”

Franklin said that Rhode Island’s free-pass statute is not completely free, however. He was hit with a mandatory $60 court fee.

But really, the initial cost savings isn’t what’s most important. The ticket is dismissed. For Rhode Island drivers, that means no insurance hike. And for Massachusetts drivers, that means no worrying about a Rhode Island ticket following them home.

HP plates rule

Reader Libby Fischberg helps wrap up today’s out-of-state theme with this question: Do drivers with disabilities who own cars registered outside of Massachusetts have the same parking rights as those with Massachusetts plates and placards?

Fischberg, who lives in New Jersey, said she’d like to visit Boston and park her vehicle near Faneuil Hall. She had heard that Massachusetts permits drivers with disabled plates or placards to park as long as they want, for free, at public meters, but it was unclear whether the law applied to her car, too.

Rest assured, it does.

“No fee shall be exacted and no penalty shall be imposed for the parking of any vehicle . . . bearing the official identification of a handicapped person issued by any other state or any Canadian Province,” reads Massachusetts General Law Chapter 40, Section 22A.

Tracey Ganiatsos, spokeswoman for the Boston Transportation Department, said that if a disabled driver were to be erroneously ticketed, he or she could appeal to the Office of the Parking Clerk. Such requests should include an image of the owner’s plate or placard, she said.

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