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Deadly N.H. motorcycle crash leads Mass. governor to push tougher driver's license regulations

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A 23-year-old driver is facing charges after a gruesome collision left 7 motorcyclists dead.
USA TODAY

BOSTON — Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker filed legislation Friday to create new tougher standards to obtain and keep commercial driver’s licenses in the commonwealth, a move inspired by last month’s devastating crash in neighboring New Hampshire that killed seven motorcyclists. 

Baker, a Republican, unveiled the legislation in a letter to members of the Massachusetts state legislature, saying the devastating crash “called attention” to the state’s regulations for commercial driver’s license.

Among the proposed regulations: Drivers who have been suspended or disqualified at any point over the past three years wouldn’t be eligible to receive a commercial driver’s license in Massachusetts. 

Volodymyr Zhukovskyy, 23, a truck driver from West Springfield, Massachusetts, was charged with seven counts of vehicular homicide after he struck a group of bikers on June 21 when he crossed a double-yellow line on a rural highway in Randolph, New Hampshire, with his truck and trailer. The bikers were members of Marine Jarheads MC, a motorcycle club that includes Marines and their spouses.

A troubling record: Driver charged in 7 motorcycle deaths has arrest records in 6 states

Zhukovskyy, who has pleaded not guilty, was on his third day working for a West Springfield trucking company. He had a Massachusetts commercial driver’s license, but state officials say the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles should have suspended Zhukovskyy in May when he received a drunken-driving charge in Connecticut.

It was just one of several drug- and traffic-related arrests Zhukovskyy had compiled in multiple states that date back to an operating under the influence offense in 2013.

“While there is no question that the Registry of Motor Vehicles failed to act as it was required to prior to that incident,” Baker said, “my administration’s review as revealed a broader need to strengthen the commonwealth’s law regulating commercial driver’s licenses to ensure that only safe and qualified drivers are authorized to operate the largest vehicles on our road.”

More: More than 1,600 drivers now suspended after deadly New Hampshire motorcycle crash

Other measures proposed in the legislation include:

  • Doubling the minimum suspension period for operators of commercial driver’s licenses from 60 to 120 days for drivers who commit two serious traffic violations during a three-year period
  • Doubling the minimum suspension period from 120 days to 240 days for operators of commercial driver’s licenses who commit three serious traffic violations during a three-year period
  • A new requirement that drivers provide next-day notification to employers and the Registry of Motor Vehicles when they are convicted of violating any state or local motor vehicle law or if they have their right to operate a motor vehicle revoked or suspended in any state
  • A new requirement that any employer hiring commercial drivers sign up for the state’s Driver Verification System, which provides automatic notification to employers when a commercial driver’s license status changes
  • Updating several provisions of the state’s commercial driver’s license law to match federal minimum standards. This includes: making texting-while-driving a serious traffic violation that can result in mandatory license suspensions; mandatory hands-free operation of electronic devices while operating a commercial motor vehicle; and a lifetime suspension for any driver of a commercial motor vehicle who uses a commercial motor vehicle to commit human trafficking crimes. 

Baker concluded the letter by urging “prompt enactment” of the legislation, dubbed An Act to Promote Commercial Driver Safety. 

More: After deadly NH biker crash, thousands of out-of-state traffic notices found untouched by Massachusetts RMV

In the wake of last month’s crash, state officials have admitted to widespread failure by the Registry of Motor Vehicles that extends beyond the oversight of Zhukovskyy’s driving record. More than 1,600 registered commercial drivers have since been suspended for out-of-state driving violations that were reported to Massachusetts since March 2018 but not acted on. 

The registry stored out-of-state notices of past incidents sent from other states in dozens of mail bins in Quincy that went untouched. Massachusetts officials completed a count of the backlog last week. 

A review of the registry’s procedures has also found that Massachusetts failed to warn other states when drivers registered in their states received driving violations in Massachusetts. State officials have not said how many infractions Massachusetts failed to report. 

The former head of the Registry of Motor Vehicles, Erin Deveney, resigned amid the fallout. Baker has called the department’s actions “unacceptable” and vowed to fix the problems. An outside auditing firm is in the process of conducting a “forensic review” of the registry’s process for receiving out-of-state traffic notifications, among other actions from the state. 

Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.

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