GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

August 16, 2011

Tarr pushes bill targeting habitual bad drivers

Stafe and Wire Reports

BOSTON — Two weeks after a fatal hit-and-run accident in Taunton two weeks ago, House and Senate Republicans — including Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr of Gloucester, offered a proposal Tuesday that would allow the Registry of Motor Vehicles to permanently revoke the licenses of certain habitual traffic offenders.

The bill, filed jointly by Tarr and by House Minority Leader Brad Jones, would create a three-tiered system of license suspensions for habitual offenders, adding two levels to the current law with progressively more severe punishments.

"Drivers who repeatedly violate the law after having their license revoked are not only abusing the system, they present in many cases a serious threat to public safety," Tarr said in a prepared statement. "The registrar and other officials need the tools to keep such drivers off the road for more than four years at a time, and this legislation will provide them."

The GOP caucus invited Democrats in the Legislature to support the bill.

"Protecting public safety transcends party lines," Tarr said, "and we need a collaborative effort to strengthen this law as soon as possible."

Paul Baran, a 55-year-old Taunton resident with a checkered driving history, was arrested June 6 for allegedly hitting and killing 17-year-old Nicholas Silva-Thomas and then fleeing the scene of the accident.

Lawmakers referred to Baran as a "road menace."

Baran's driving record, according to media reports, included nine serious accidents, at least five license suspensions, and numerous citations for driving without a license, speeding, refusing to obey police and leaving the scene of an accident.

Counting the license suspension for this most recent charge, Baran's license has been suspended 16 times over the past 22 years.

"In light of recent events, this legislation must be moved now," Jones said in a statement. "The public can no longer be put in danger by these drivers who should clearly not be on the road. By providing stronger tools to state and local officials, hopefully we will prevent any further tragedies of this magnitude."

Under current law, habitual traffic offenders can be denied a driver's license for up to four years if they have been convicted at least three times of committing one or more enumerated offenses, or if they have been convicted of 12 or more offenses that carry a 30-day license suspension.

The listed offenses include driving while intoxicated, reckless driving, making a false statement in an application for a learner's permit or driver's license, leaving the scene of an accident, operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license, driving without a license and the use of a vehicle while committing a felony.

The bill offered by Beacon Hill Republicans would increase the penalty for a "first-time habitual offender" to a five-year license suspension.

A Level 2 habitual traffic offender would be defined as a driver who has previously had their license suspended for being a habitual offender and commits an additional three non-listed driving offenses carrying 30-day suspensions. Level 2 offenders would be subject to having their license suspended for not less than five years and not more than 15 years.

The most serious classification — Level 3 — would be reserved for drivers already punished as a habitual offender who commits one additional listed offense, or a Level 2 offender who is convicted of two additional non-listed driving offenses punishable by a 30-day suspension.

Under the bill, a Level 3 habitual offender shall have their license suspended for up to their lifetime, but not less than five years.

Additionally, the registrar of motor vehicles would be empowered to set terms and conditions on the return of a license to any level of habitual offender.