Massachusetts Legislation


Bay State Bike Week Announced!

MassDOT and the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition (MassBike) will be partnering in an effort to make the Bay State Bike Week a state wide event. The two organizations working together hope to reach across the state and involve as many commuters as possible. The Bay State Bike Week will take place May 17 – 21st to promote biking as a safe, economical, healthy and environmentally-friendly activity.

The Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition, commonly known as MassBike, promotes a bicycle friendly environment and encourages bicycling for commuting, as a recreational activity and for fitness. The organization was founded all the way back in February of 1977 and knows its way around Massachusetts. MassBike is an important group in regards to legislation as well fighting for bike safety legislation and bicycle friendly communities.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation hopes to encourage biking as an alternative mode of transportation to other pollutant generating ways as well. MassDOT began the Massachusetts Bicycle Transportation Plan in 2008 to promote the activity throughout the state. This piece of legislation provides a listing of existing on and off road bicycle facilities that includes paths, projects in the pipeline, and long term proposals.

To kick off the 2010 Bay State Bike Week already has a website set up at: www.baystatebikeweek.org. Here bikers and prospective participants can find out what the week’s all about and how to get involved.

Should elderly drivers be retested?

It has been a long debated question on whether elderly drivers should be allowed to drive at certain ages.  Now that the baby boomers are beginning to reach these ages, this question is getting more attention.  With more then 20 million drivers 70 and older on the road across the nation in 2007, more people are raising the question on whether the elderly should continue to drive.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration noted some changes that accompany aging that could cause problems for elderly drivers.

Safe elderly drivers require the complex coordination of many different skills. The physical and mental changes that accompany aging can diminish the abilities of elderly drivers. These include: a slowdown in response time; a loss of clarity in vision and hearing; a loss of muscle strength and flexibility; drowsiness due to medications; and a reduction in the ability to focus or concentrate.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) also found elderly drivers tend to be “over-involved” in particular types of collisions. To be specific, the most common error they found was collisions caused due to failure to yield the right of way.

The IIHS also looked at insurance claims and found that both collision and property damage claims begin increasing after “about age 65 meaning that seniors more often are involved in crashes.”

For further detail into this report of elderly driving, visit the article Westport News.

Senate Reviews Texting & Elderly Driving Bill

The Massachusetts Senate voted yesterday to ban texting while driving and to require elderly drivers to undergo regular cognitive and physical screenings every three years. The controversial bill finally made its way through the Senate with a 24 – 10 vote. The bill awaits a compromise between the House and Senate differences and lastly an approval by Governor Patrick Deval before it can be enforced by law. If this bill passes to law Massachusetts will join 19 other states that ban texting while behind the wheel. At any given time during the day in 2008 more than 800,000 drivers were using hand-held devices in their cars according to the United States Department of Transportation distracted driving website: distraction.gov.

The Senate rejected a portion of the House bill that would ban all cell phone use except by a hands-free device. The initial bill made proposed to make text messaging while driving a secondary offense, meaning an officer may only issue a citation if the driver was pulled over for a different violation than texting. The Senate rejected this as well and upgraded texting while driving to a primary offense.

The Senate’s revisions to the bill have created the following measures:

  • Require drivers over 75 to pass an examination of the motorist’s cognitive and physical capabilities.
  • Elderly drivers who fail the cognitive or physical examination may protest the RMV’s decision by taking a driving test demonstrating they hold the necessary driving skills for continued licensing.
  • Civil immunity would be granted to physicians and officers who report, or fail to report, an individual who demonstrated unsafe and improper use of a cell phone or is not physically capable of driving.
  • When a violation of the texting law has been reported to the RMV the driver’s license will be suspended.
  • Drivers who attain 3 surchargeable incidents in a 2 year time frame must either take a driver’s training course or face a suspended license. Current laws require this measure after 5 surchargeable incidents in a 3 year period.
  • Prohibits the use of cell phones for talking or texting for public transit operators.

The bills from both congressional bodies have been sent to a joint Senate and House committee to conjure a compromised version of the proposed measures. Keep an eye on the news for this piece of legislature, it is bound to affect every Massachusetts driver.

Five Dollar RMV Fee Rescinded!

Monday a new five dollar fee was put into effect for drivers who spoke with a Massachusetts RMV representative over the phone or at a branch looking to renew a license, a registration or request a duplicate license. Many drivers saw this registry fee as a “back door” tax. The new charge came as an unpleasant surprise to both drivers and politicians. The measure was meant to encourage the use of the online RMV system to complete transactions rather than visiting a branch in an effort to decrease operation costs.

Due to much outrage and distaste by the public and lawmakers alike, the five dollar fee has been removed. The Registrar stated in its rescinding publication it understands the government’s concern in that the additional five dollar fee would bring an unduly burden on Massachusetts drivers and in the future will not charge drivers for speaking with a representative on the phone or in a branch. The five dollar charge has been rescinded by the RMV; those who paid the fee yesterday should receive a refund via mail within the next two weeks.

The RMV’s motivation behind the rescinded fee however should not be forgotten; online services not only save the RMV money, but drivers time as well. Over the last year the Massachusetts RMV added eight new online services to better serve drivers. You can check them out at: www.mass.gov/rmv. Before going into a branch MassDOT recommends residents to first check the online website and if possible to complete transactions online, saving themselves the hassle and time of going into a branch.

Inspection fees may rise

A 20 percent increase in the cost of Massachusetts automobile inspection fees may be coming.  The increase is part of a legislation package that is aimed at helping stabilize the finances of cities and towns all over the state.  Extra revenue will be dedicated to local police training.

The increase would cause the inspection charge for a passenger car to rise $6.

State Republican Paul Donato realeased a statement on the matter,

“It was something the commission felt would have a better impace on the communities by allowing them to have the opportunity to have police training.”

Under the new bill, municipalities would be able to e-billing programs and offer employee benefits already available to state workers, such as health care spending accounts and larger optional life insurance maximums.

An interesting new approach the bill proposes is cooperative purchasing agreements and mutual aid agreements with other cities and towns to save money on services, equipment and staffing.

Whether the bill will pass is unknown but it is under review by the House Ways and Means Committee.

Right to Repair is Stuck in a Rut

The Right to Repair Bill seems to be stalled in congress as it waits yet another day to be considered by the Massachusetts Senate. The legislature was first introduced to Massachusetts in 2006 proposing to allow independent repair shops unlimited access to major manufacturer’s service techniques, repair codes, and tools. Bills similar to this one have been proposed in eight other states since 2001 however never enacted.

Proponents of the Right To Repair Coalition include consumers along with the auto parts and repair industry. In fact the Right to Repair legislation is funded and lobbied by some of the largest aftermarket auto part retailers. Those supporting the bill argue the  computers vehicles rely on are becoming increasingly advanced and making repairs more of a nightmare for fix-it-yourselfers and independent repair shops.They argue its time repair shops and repair part manufacturers should have explicit access to the repair codes, techniques, and tools necessary to repair vehicles. This measure would drive down consumer’s repair costs and grant a greater convenience and choice in choosing repair shops. Supporters of the bill hopes the measure will pass giving the Federal Trade Commission authorization to enforce regulations and encourage competition.

Opposers of the bill believe it would force manufacturers to release confidential trade secrets and other information that would give competitors an unfair advantage. Others believe the Bill’s goal is gain access to automakers information to reproduce parts outsourcing at a lower cost overseas. Those opposed to the bill reference the National Automotive Service Task Force that was formed in 2000 to grant independent repair shops the same access to services and techniques franchised dealers had. The National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF) created a website: www.nastf to address any questions independent shops have while repairing a vehicle. The largest organization representing independent repair shops, New England Service Station and Auto Repair Association, has told congress this piece of legislature is unnecessary as service information and repair codes are already available.

Here’s the big question… who is right? If you have an opinion on this piece of legislation contact your local congress member via the contact information at link: www.mass.gov/legis/.

New Insurance Carriers = High Risk Exemption

This past Tuesday the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld the Massachusetts Division of Insurance’s decision to temporarily excluded new auto insurance companies from covering high risk drivers. The Abrella Mutual Insurance company filed a lawsuit claiming Nonnie Burnes had exceeded her authority as the insurance commissioner while favoring national companies new to the Bay State. Burnes had adjusted the insurance regulations to exempt the new insurers from covering high risk drivers for two years.

Abrealla with the Massachusetts Association of Insurance Agents brought the law suit in 2008 arguing the exemption place Massachusetts insurers at a disadvantage. This legislation would require the Massachusetts insurers to share the cost of high-risk losses based on their state market share allowing the new insurers to escape this burden.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld Burnes decision deciding although the new companies would not share the cost of high risk drivers they do help fund the administrative costs of the Massachusetts Automobile Insurance Plan that in turn provides the high risk insurance. Burnes had worked during her career as the insurance commissioner towards deregulation in an effort to bring new insurance agencies to Massachusetts giving drivers better competitive prices and more options.

Frank Mancini, president of the Massachusetts Association of Insurance Agents, stated his association was disappointed in the outcome however will not be giving up. The group has already brought two additional bills attempting to keep the ownership of expiring policies with agents.

Before deregulation state regulators set auto insurance rates charging drivers by their location and driving record. The new system allows carriers to grant discounts for everything from being a student with good grades to holding a AAA membership. It has also brought more competition the the state as carriers set their own rates as opposed to following state regulated rates as before. Deregulation has brought eleven new insurance carriers and looks to be a good step forward for the State.

Cell Phone Bill Proceeds to Senate

February 4th the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed a bill banning texting while driving and requiring drivers to use a hands free device. The bill also restricts the use of cell phones by anyone under the age of 18 and requires drivers over 75 years to have a mandatory vision exam when their license is renewed every five years. A great success the legislation passed through the Massachusetts House of Representatives with a land slide vote of 146 to 9. However it has not been passed into law just yet, the bill must endure the senate’s scrutiny as well. If the legislation makes it to law it will make Massachusetts the 20th state to ban texting while driving and the 7th state to ban direct use of a hand-held cell phone.

Although strong support for bill was evident in the House of Representatives the legislation still needs to pass through the Senate to be enforced. Some opponents of the bill believe it impedes on the citizens civil rights and liberties. However a great number of representatives, including State Representative Carl Sciortino, believe the drivers safety and health take precedence. A similar bill was proposed the the Massachusetts government however never made it to law. Massachusetts Representatives, even some who approved the legislation, remain mixed about how strict they believe cell phone laws should be.

If the new legislation passes through the Massachusetts Senate violators will be charged $100 on the first offense, $250 on the second offense, and $500 on the third offense. The bill allows for insurance companies to decide for themselves whether or not to add a surcharge to drivers rates should they abuse cell phone use while driving. Also drivers under age 18 caught violating any of the restrictions found in the new legislation would have their license suspended. The new bill, if passed, is not to be taken lightly as made obvious by serious consequences if violated.

Right to Repair Legislation

Today’s vehicles are becoming more and more complex as computers and technology advance. From a vehicle’s computer to ignition systems, cars as we know them have developed into something we could only dream of 10 or 20 years ago. While these advancements in technology may increase a drivers’ safety, comfort, and auto reliability it has also created an opportunity for auto manufacturers to require basic services and repairs to be completed only by the manufacturer’s dealerships.

Auto dealerships currently own the codes to decipher what is wrong with specific vehicles, leaving independent auto mechanics at a loss as they are unable to repair them without this vital information. The Right to Repair legislation would require exclusive auto manufacturers to share the same codes, data, and tools supplied to their own dealerships with independent mechanics. The passage of this act would allow consumers to choose how and where they service their vehicle, whether it be through an auto dealership or an independent maintenance shop.

Auto manufacturers and dealerships see this legislation as a threat to their lucrative service business. Some of the opposed include: Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, and the Automotive Service Association. Lobbyists opposing this new bill have congregated on Beacon Hill urging the the Joint Committee of Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure to dismiss the bill in their executive meeting today regarding the Right to Repair legislation.

The legislation however has many supporters as well including: AAA, the Retailers Association of Massachusetts (RAM), the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) and the Massachusetts Independent Automobile Dealers Association (MIADA). Massachusetts residents struggling with their own economic downturns are looking for a more affordable way to repair their vehicles than visiting dealership service centers. This is not only a local issue, the European Union has passed a Right to Repair and Canada has a piece of similar legislation underway. Keep your eyes open for additional news on the Right to Repair legislation, it very well may effect you or someone you know.

Mass House Approves Cell Phone Safety Laws Behind the Wheel

Thursday the Massachusetts House passed a bill that would make it the 7th state requiring drivers to use a hands free device behind the wheel and 20th state to ban texting. This is not the House’s first attempt to pass these types of laws. Two years ago a similar measure was passed by the House however soon after died in the Senate. There it was believed the hands free device was more of an inconvenience that did not improve drivers safety.

The new bill was approved this last week by a House vote of 146 to 9. This restriction however was not the only provision held in the legislation. It would also ban drivers from text messaging behind the wheel, prohibit the use of cell phones behind the wheel of those 18 years and under, and require drivers over 75 to take a vision test every 5 years. Drivers are currently required to renew their license every 5 years, however only take a vision test every 10 years. This bill would enforce stricter driving laws many feel are overdue.

Drivers who are caught texting or talking without a hands-free-device would be fined on the first offense $100, on the second offense $250, and a whopping $500 on the third offense. The bill would allow insurance companies to decide themselves whether a surcharge will be used if the new restrictions are passed. Drivers under 18 years caught using a cell phone behind the wheel would have their license suspended.

Senate members have mixed feelings about how strict these laws should actually be. Previous studies have suggested talking on a hands free device verses the actual phone leave drivers equally distracted by the conversation. Some members of the senate are pushing for the hands free device to aid law enforcement’s efforts. A point was made that if texting was banned however the hands free portion of the bill was not passed, how would officers know if a driver was placing a call or sending a text message? Looks as if we’ll just have to wait and see what the Senate as a whole makes of it.

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