Driver Decal Bill Would Flag Young Motorists

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By Matt Murphy

BOSTON — Student and junior drivers would have to buy and display a decal or magnet on their vehicle indicating they are still learning to drive or subject to certain driving restrictions under a bill moving in the Massachusetts House.

The House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday opened voting on legislation (H 2761) filed by Reps. RoseLee Vincent of Revere and Donald Wong of Saugus.

The bill instructs the registrar of motor vehicles to provide drivers with a learner’s permit or a junior operator’s license with two copies of a “highly visible, reflective decal, magnet or other appropriate symbol” to be displayed on their vehicles.

The registrar would be empowered to establish the fee for the markers, and anyone found operating a vehicle in violation of the requirement would be subject to a fine of up to $50.

Ways and Means Chairman Jeffrey Sanchez gave members of the committee until Thursday at 10 a.m. to vote on whether to recommend the bill to the House. The full House has a session scheduled for Thursday at 11 a.m., but it’s unclear when the bill might emerge before the full House.

A largely similar bill passed the House last session on July 23, 2016, but did not surface for a vote in the Senate.

At a hearing last session on the bill, a Saugus baker told lawmakers that he had patented a sticker that could be used to brand vehicles operated by inexperienced drivers and would be willing to turn those patents over to the RMV if the bill were to become law.

Daniel Luberto, the baker, said he got the idea after a harrowing incident involving his son behind the wheel. A tractor trailer tailgating his son’s car caused him to become nervous, swerve and hit a curb, Luberto said.

Proponents of the idea have argued before lawmakers that decals would improve safety by alerting professional and experienced drivers and law enforcement that there is a new or young driver behind the wheel.

One driving instructor, however, cautioned lawmakers in 2015 that it could have the opposite effect. She said motorists often take action, such as passing her student drivers despite double-yellow lines on the road, to avoid being stuck behind someone learning to drive.

Questions have also been raised about how the system would work for vehicles shared within a family. The Department of Transportation said last session that if the new rules were to become law the markers would need to be removable.

The bill leaves many of the details to the registrar to work out, such as the form of the marker – a sticker or a magnet? — and where it should be displayed on the car. The bill states only that the marker should be “clearly visible to law enforcement officers.”

Junior operator’s licenses are issued to drivers between the ages of 16 1/2 and 18 who have had a learner’s permit for at least six months. Young drivers are prohibited from operating a motor vehicle between the hours of 12:30 a.m. and 5 a.m. unless accompanied by a parent or guardian, and face greater penalties for road infractions such as speeding, drag racing or any incident involving drugs or alcohol.

Junior operators are also prohibited from having passengers under the age of 18 unless there is also someone in the car over the age of 21 with at least a year of driving experience. The rule was put in place to try to limit distractions for inexperienced drivers by having friends in the car.

The Vincent-Wong bill had a hearing before the Transportation Committee on July 13, and was reportedly favorably by that committee on Aug. 7.