Massachusetts Legislation

What’s Going On With the MBTA?

Many of you may be asking this question.  Recently, they have been in the news almost every day, but if you haven’t been following along you may have missed some of the updates on fair hikes, service cuts, and improvements that are in the works.

With all of the negative feedback that’s been in the news, the MBTA is making an effort to improve certain aspects of their services.  Commuter Rail riders will notice a major change this fall when the ability to buy your ticket from your smart phone is introduced.  According to an article from the Associated Press, there are 140 commuter rail stations and less than half of them have fare vending machines.  Without one of these machines, riders who do not already have tickets or passes must buy them on board the train.  Purchasing your ticket on board results in a two dollar surcharge and riders can only pay in cash.  This is quite inconvenient for many riders but soon anyone with an iPhone, Blackberry, or Android will be able to purchase their ticket online and show their phone to a conductor once they board the train.  This improvement called mobile ticketing, is being designed by Masabi and is sure to make riding the commuter rail a much more convenient experience.

The MBTA has been dealing with the backlash of proposed fair hikes and service cuts for weeks now.  Despite protests and testimony from many members of the public including activists, the MBTA board voted 4-1 to increase fares and eliminate or reduce service on various bus routes.  Three commuter rail lines, Kingston/Plymouth, Needham, and Greenbush will also eliminate their weekend runs.  These fare hikes are the first ones in five years and will increase the cost of a subway fare by 30 cents, bus fares will be increased by 25 cents, and commuter rail tickets will go up $1.25.  Commuter Rail riders who purchase a monthly pass will see an increase between 20-30 percent in their monthly fare.  These changes are set to take effect July 1.

Although the MBTA has a higher ridership level than ever before, they have been struggling to find a long term solution to their debt crisis.  Debt payments, energy costs, and door-to-door service for the disabled increase the T’s debt at a rapid rate and the service cuts and fare hikes that have been approved are not as high as the original plan that was proposed.  These changes are intended to close a budget deficit of $160 million for the coming year.  According to a Boston Globe article, many riders are unhappy about the fare increases and service cuts but have no other options for transportation.  Driving into the city is still more expensive for many, once gas, parking fees, and tolls are taken into account.  Not to mention the wear and tear on a vehicle that sits in rush hour traffic.

According to an article from the Boston Globe, the money coming into the MBTA for this year’s deficit mainly comes from one-time monetary sources including $5 million in leftover snow and ice removal funds, $51 million in surplus from an account that is funded by motor vehicle inspection fees.  That money comes from the state and requires legislative approval before it can be spent on the T.  These funds are short term fixes and a long term solution would have to include Beacon Hill politicians approving new taxes to lighten the burden on the MBTA.  A proposed fix by Governor Deval Patrick’s administration, is asking lawmakers to approve harsher penalties against fare evaders and to cap damages in lawsuits against the T at $100,000, which could save the MBTA about $5 million annually.

These developments are the most recent news on the MBTA, although the  fare hikes and service cuts are a negative solution to the budget crisis in the minds of many riders, the MBTA is attempting to make improvements elsewhere for their customers.

Photo By: davidayy

Texting While Driving in Massachusetts: Know The Laws

Driving while on a cell phone has undoubtedly led to accidents on the road which could have been prevented.  Massachusetts lawmakers continue to push for stricter regulations against cell phone use while driving.  For those of you that aren’t exactly sure what the current laws are, we’ve done some research so that you can be sure you are in compliance next time you go out for a drive.

Currently, the only law that restricts talking on a cell phone while driving applies to drivers under the age of 18 with a learner’s permit or provisional license.  Violators will have their license or learner’s permit suspended.  Junior Operator’s Licenses or Learner’s Permits will be suspended for 60 days for a first offense, 180 days for a second offense, and 1 year for a third or subsequent violation.

While licensed drivers over the age of 18 are allowed to talk on the phone while driving, all drivers are banned from texting or other Internet activity when behind the wheel.  If found texting while driving, drivers will be fined $100 for their first offense, then $250, and then $500 for additional infractions.

This law may be frustrating for some drivers but there is good reason for it.  You may think that sending a quick text is no big deal but  texting drivers are 23 times more likely to get involved in a crash.  Sadly, statistics  like this have not been enough to keep drivers from texting behind the wheel which is why bans like this are becoming more common than ever across the country.

In addition to these bans,  school bus operators and any public transit drivers are prohibited from any cell phone use whatsoever while driving, which is enforced with a $500 fine.

As we said there is currently no ban on cell phone use (other than texting) on licensed drivers over the age of 18, however, a bill has recently been introduced in Massachusetts that would only allow for hands-free cell phone use.  This would mean that drivers would need to have a docking station for their phone that would allow them to utilize the speaker phone feature, use headphones, or a Bluetooth to allow for driving with both hands on the wheel.  This bill is yet to be passed.

While many drivers see these laws as a nuisance, their purpose is to protect everyone on the road from the dangers of distracted driving.

MADD Supports Extended Measures Against Drunk Driving

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 108 people were killed in Massachusetts due to drunk drivers in 2009. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has initiated a fight for legislators to support an extended reach of ignition interlock devices and monitoring. An interlock device prevents a driver from operating a vehicle if they do not pass the breathalyzer test. If the driver passes the interlock the vehicle will start however if their BAC is not up to par the vehicle will remain as it is.

In Massachusetts repeat drunk driving offenders are required to have the systems in their vehicles for the first two years. MADD is asking to reach further and include the requirement for first time offenders during the first 6 months their licnese is reinstated. Drivers will gain training in how to use the device to ensure proper use. The ignition interlock system typically costs $100 – $200 for installation with a monthly rental fee of approximately $70 – $100. The device is programed to prevent a vehicle from starting should you have too high BAC, have a friend blow into the device, use a mechanical device to blow into the system or tamper with it in any way. Drinking and driving is a serious matter. MADD is working along side Senator Robert Hedlund, sponsor of the bill, to ensure drunk driving recognized as such.

Lower Than Expected Citations for Texting & Driving

Massachusetts is reporting a lower number of texting while driving citations than expected.  Since September 30th a grand total of 245 drivers across the state have been ticketed on the offense, of those a mere 16 were given to drivers less than 18 years of age. It is possible drivers have found the strength to turn off their cell phones or chucked their PDA to the back seat; then again – maybe they’ve found a way to text without being caught.

After a long legislative debate the texting ban was enacted September 30th of 2010. The new legislation is intended to make roads safer and drivers more alert to their surroundings. It has been thought the low citation numbers across the state, totaling less than 3 per day, may exhibit the difficulty officers face in determining if drivers are using their phones and pda’s behind the wheel.

The texting citation, although not a surchargeable ticket, will cost you a pretty penny. The fine totals $100.00 for drivers over the age of 18. Drivers less than 18 years of age caught texting and driving may face heavier fines, license suspension, and additional driving courses to re-instate a licnese.

New technologies have made it possible to hold incoming messages, send auto responses, and even read incoming messages to you. Weighing the risk of facing a fine, suspension for the under-agers, and placing your life and many others in danger – is that text message really worth it?

Twenty-Nine Texting & Driving Citations

A recent publication by the Massachusetts RMV suggests some Bay State drivers have yet to adjust to the new texting and driving ban. As of October 15th Massachusetts has served 29 citations regarding new regulations.

Mary Beth Heffernan, Public Safety Secretary, commented:

“Distracted driving is a serious threat to public safety. Cracking down on distracted drivers is imperative… We must reduce the threat posed by those who don’t give their undivided attention to the road while behind the wheel.”

Reinforcing Heffernan’s efforts here are a few things to remember before texting behind the wheel:

  • Drivers Less Than 18 Years of Age: Drivers younger than 18 years are not banned from using a cell phone while driving. If cited the teen driver can face a $100 – $500 fine, 90 day – 1 year suspension of license and/or required to complete a required attitudinal retraining course.
  • Drivers violating use of electronic device: Drivers of 18 years and older may face fines of $100 – $500.
  • Drivers with 3+ Surchargeable Citations: Drivers accruing 3+ surchargable citations in a two year time period may face suspension of license and required to complete a driver retraining course.

For more information on the texting and driving legislation please visit the RMV website.

New Driving Legislature Affecting You

The majority of Massachusetts drivers have at least heard about some new legislature that is to take effect this month, but many are still unaware of how it will affect them. New laws effective this month’s end will affect operators of all ages. Check out the following to keep yourself up-to-date and out-of-trouble:

Mobile Phone & Texting Law Effective September 30th 2010:

This new law prohibits drivers of all ages from using any kind of mobile electronic device to write, send, or read electronic messages including text messages, e-mails, instant messages and internet access. Those who disregard this new regulation will face:

  • 1st offense: $100 fine
  • 2nd offense: $250 fine
  • 3rd + offense: $500 fine

Drivers under 18 years of age are also prohibited by this law to make any use of a mobile electronic device for any reason while operating a vehicle. Massachusetts enforcement will only allow this use for reporting an emergency. Teen drivers violating this provision will face:

  • 1st offense: $100 fine & 60-day license suspension and a required attitudinal retraining course
  • 2nd offense:$250 fine & 180-day license suspension
  • 3rd offense: $500 fine & 1 year suspension of license

Operators of all ages may be fined for unsafe use of and impeded operation due to mobile devices. Additionally, drivers must keep one hand on the steering wheel at all times. If caught operating a vehicle with no hands on the wheel or distracted while due to a mobile device you will face the following fines:

  • 1st offense: $35 fine
  • 2nd offense (within 12 months): $75 fine
  • 3rd offense (within 12 months): $150 fine

Further than the previously listed offenses Massachusetts law constitutes personal injury and property damages caused by negligent operation a criminal offense. If you’re involved in an accident or crash as a result of using a mobile electronic device, you will face criminal charges and suspension of your licnese.

Three Surcharges & Suspension Legislature Effective September 30th:

When a driver accrues three surcharge-able violations in a two-year time period their license may face suspension. These qualifying surcharge-able events include moving violations and accidents. Once a third surcharge is incurred in that two-year window, the driver must complete a Driver Retraining Course within 90 days of the notification sent by the RMV.

In Person License Renewals for Those 75+ Years Effective September 30th:

Drivers 75 years of age and older as of September 30th will be required to renew their license in person at an RMV branch. The operator will need to successfully complete a vision test or resent a completed Vision Screening

For additional information on the new driving laws affecting  you please visit the Massachsuetts RMV website at:

Kicking the Habit: Texting & Driving

The Massachusetts texting ban is to take effect October 1st and some drivers have already had difficulty trying to quit. Many texting addicts have already tried to start prying their fingers from a cell phone while driving, here are a few tips on how to keep yourself from the buttons while behind the wheel:

  • Place your phone out of sight or at least arms reach in places like the glove box. If you’re a true texting addict, the trunk may be your phone’s ultimate safe haven.
  • Turn the texting notification tone to silent to ease your texting temptation.
  • If you can still see the screen light up when the ringer is on silent, turn your phone off.
  • Read your directions a couple times before hitting the road, this way you’ll be familiar with the route & have to pull over fewer times to check those texted directions.
  • Two words: designated texter. If you have a friend in the car, have them text for you!
  • Make the ultimate realization that the text message will still be there when you park. Lo and behold, it will say the same thing it did 5, 10 or 20 minutes ago when your phone received it.

Happy and safe driving everyone!

Twenty-Six Billion Dollar Bill: Passed

The traditional six week congressional recess was interrupted yesterday when House members gushed back to Capitol Hill voting on a measure the Senate passed just last week. The Senate, House and President have now approved a bill for a $26 billion plan that will provide additional aid to states, including an additional $655 million for Massachusetts. These additional funds are expected to help prevent states and local governments from laying off hundreds of thousands of teachers, firefighters, and police officers.

Governor Deval Patrick stated yesterday the $655 million allocated to Massachusetts will be divided as follows:

  • $200 million for education programs in the state
  • $75 million for state colleges & universities
  • Remaining funds will be used to “fully fund” Chapter 70 state aid to local schools

The votes cast for this piece of legislation closely followed political party lines – only three Democrats voted against it and two republicans for it. The final count of 247 – 161 confirmed the bill’s pathway to the President’s desk where it was signed only a couple hours after passing through the House vote.

On a national level the new bill will provide $16 billion to offer increased Medicaid payments to states. This increase in funding will allow additional funds to be re-routed into other areas of the budget. According to an article by the Boston Globe advocates of the legislation have estimated this measure to keep more than 150,000 police officers, fire fighters and other public employees on payrolls. It has also been estimated this bill would decrease the deficit by 1.4 billion over the next 10 years.

Although the bill has been passed into law, much opposition remains. Businesses and Republicans have objected to $0 billion that would be raised via raising taxes on certain US-based multinational companies. Additionally Democrats and advocates of the bill are irritated over the plan to phase out an increase in food stamp payments. We will need to wait and see how this measure affects America and what obstacles lie ahead.

Right to Repair Denied

A decade-long battle to require auto manufacturers to release diagnostic and software information as well as tools to auto repair shops and individuals was shot down this past weekend. Also known as the “Right to Repair” bill, the proposed legislation which passed the Massachusetts State Senate July 6th was denied entry to law by the Massachusetts House this past Saturday evening.

Opposition to the bill was largely felt by automakers. They believe the bill would be costly for both dealers and automakers possibly threatening their industry. Auto manufacturers also fear their valued information would fall in the wrong hands allowing other companies to make generics of their specialized and trade-secret parts. Supports of the bill stated it would make lower repair costs available to consumers and allow independent repair shops to compete with the dealers.

The high tensions of the Right to Repair Act may also be seen in its expensive costs. Opposition and proponents have spent a total of $1.3 million on lobbying and advertising this past year in efforts to sway voters.

If this measure were to have passed it would have made Massachusetts the first state to require auto manufacturer’s to release their highly valued informaiton. The Right to Repair coalition plans to bring their best when the legislation meets again next year. If at first you don’t succeed – try, try again.

Drunk Driving Crack Down

The head of the state police union Rick Brown is calling for additional officials to help take impaired drivers off the road:

“We need extra patrols out there looking for drunk drivers, especially in the summer. If we put more saturation patrols in these areas, maybe you start taking some of these drivers off the roads.’’

– Rick Brown

In the past few weeks four state police troopers have been injured and one killed while on duty. All five accidents took place between midnight and 2:30 a.m., and in four of these instances the drivers now face drunken driving charges. Police are still seeking a suspect in the fifth case. A report from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund shows the number of police officers killed in traffic accidents has risen 35% from this time last year.

Massachusetts hopes a saturation of officers will help to deter intoxicated persons from driving. Troopers have urged their superiors to increase enforcement during peak drinking and driving hours, especially Friday and Saturday nights along the free ways.

If a driver is caught with a BAC above the legal limit, serious consequences will follow:

  • On the first offense Massachusetts drunk driving laws mandate a fine from $500 to $5,000 and/ or face up to  two and a half years in prison after driving with a blood-alcohol-content of .08 or more. Not only will you face these hardships, but your license will be suspended for a full year.
  • On your second offense the consequences are more sever. A second conviction comes with: guaranteed jail time of at least 60 days no more than two and a half years, fine of $6,000 – $10,000, suspended license for 2 years, and an interlock device installed in your car. If the first offense consequences didn’t deter you from drunk driving, the second offense punishment should.

Drinking and driving is a serious danger for anyone involved, officials are hopeful the additional measures will help to reduce the number of impaired drivers on the road.

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