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Massachusetts Auto Driving Laws

Driving in Massachusetts is a privilege, not a right. You earn driving privileges by passing written and road tests that prove your ability to operate a motor vehicle safely and within Massachusetts driving law.

Once you have earned your driver's license, you are responsible for your actions as a driver.

The Registry of Motor Vehicles

The Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) tracks your history as a driver in your driving record. This record lists three types of events that can cause you to lose your driving privileges:

  • Civil motor vehicle infractions
  • Criminal violations
  • Motor vehicle accidents where you are found to be more than 50 percent at fault.

Suspension or Revocation of Driver's License

Under Massachusetts driving law, the RMV is required to suspend or revoke your driver's license in a number of situations described in this chapter. A suspension or revocation means that your license and driving privileges are taken away for a specific period or indefinitely.

In addition, you will not be able to renew your expired license if you have unpaid parking violations, unpaid excise taxes, outstanding court warrants, or unfulfilled child support obligations.

When you break a Massachusetts driving law, you are subject to a citation. A citation may require that you pay a fine, lose your driving privileges, appear in court, or go to jail.

Major violations of Massachusetts traffic laws, such as driving while intoxicated or leaving the scene of an accident, carry severe penalties and could cause you to lose your license.

You can also lose your license through a series of Massachusetts driving law violations, such as driving above the speed limit or failing to obey traffic signals.

Civil Motor Vehicle Infractions

Civil violations of Massachusetts driving law, such as not obeying traffic signals or speeding, are considered non-criminal and can usually be settled by paying fines.

Under Massachusetts driving law, if you receive a citation from a law enforcement officer for a civil motor vehicle infraction (CMVI), you must pay the required fine or request a hearing to dispute the citation within 20 days. CMVI fines usually range between $35 and $175.

If you do not respond to a citation within 20 days, you will be found responsible and charged a substantial late payment fee. Continued failure to pay the citation and late fee will cause your license to be suspended.

Paying a motor vehicle citation fine means you accept responsibility for that violation of Massachusetts traffic laws. Your driving record will note that you have accepted responsibility for a citation whether you paid the citation by mail, requested a hearing and were ordered by a court to pay the fine, or you failed to respond to the citation within the 20-day period.

Speeding Violations

Under Massachusetts driving law, if you are given a citation for driving above the speed limit, the minimum penalty is a $75 fine. If you are convicted of driving more than 10 miles per hour (mph) over the speed limit, you will be fined an additional $10 for each mph you were traveling above the first 10.

By law, all fines for speeding violations include a $50 surcharge (increased from $25, effective July 1, 2003). This surcharge is applied to the Head Injury Treatment Services Trust Fund.

Speeding is a common factor in motor vehicle crashes resulting in serious head injuries. The legislature established this trust fund for rehabilitation services for those with head injuries.

Criminal Violations of Massachusetts Driving Law

Criminal motor vehicle violations are serious offenses. If you commit a criminal motor vehicle violation, you may be arrested immediately, your vehicle will be towed, your license may be taken away, and you may be placed in jail until a court hearing can be arranged. If you are convicted of a criminal motor vehicle offense, the court will set any fine or prison term.

Criminal motor vehicle offenses of Massachusetts driving law include driving with a suspended license, driving under the influence (DUI), and leaving the scene of an accident. The License Suspension or Revocation section of this chapter includes tables that outline the penalties of many criminal motor vehicle offenses.

In addition, under Massachusetts driving law you may be arrested and criminally charged for not responding truthfully and fully to a police officer who has asked you to...

  • Provide your name and address
  • Provide the vehicle owner's name and address
  • Produce your driver's license on demand
  • Show a valid registration certificate for the vehicle
  • Sign your name in the officer's presence

At-Fault Accidents

In addition to civil and criminal motor vehicle violations, the third type of event that negatively affects your driving record is a motor vehicle accident for which you are considered to be at fault. You are considered to be more than 50 percent at fault for an accident if your insurance company...

1. Finds you at fault according to one of the 19 Standards of Fault listed at the end of Chapter 6. An example is causing an accident while driving on the wrong side of the road or crashing into another vehicle from behind, and...

2. Has paid a claim of more than $500 for collision, limited collision claim, or damage to someone else's property.

Any at-fault accidents charged to you will be listed on your driving record with any motor vehicle violations you committed and will count toward possible license suspension.

Surchargeable Events

The motor vehicle violations or accidents described previously that are listed on your driving record are called surchargeable events. Each surchargeable event counts toward possible license suspension.

Remember, the RMV treats most out-of-state traffic convictions as if they occurred in Massachusetts.

Under Massachusetts driving law, if you receive three speeding violations within a 12-month period, your driver's license will be suspended automatically for 30 days. The 12-month period begins when you either pay or are found responsible for the first of the 3 citations.

Junior operators (under age 18) face a tougher license suspension of 180 days for any combination of 2 speeding or drag racing citations and a 1 year suspension for a third violation.

If you collect five surchargeable events on your driving record within a 3-year period, you are in danger of having your license suspended. You will receive a letter from the RMV instructing you to complete a driver retraining program.

You must complete the retraining course within 90 days or your license will be suspended indefinitely until you complete the program. If you have taken the driver retraining program in the past 3 years, you are exempt from this requirement.

Under Massachusetts driving law, if you collect seven surchargeable events within a 3-year period, your license will will be suspended automatically for 60 days.

For More Information

Massachusetts Department of Transportation


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