House warms to decal to flag novice drivers

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STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, DEC. 8, 2014…..Novice drivers in Massachusetts would be required to display decals indicating their inexperience under legislation that advanced in the House Monday.

Rep. Jay Kaufman, a Lexington Democrat, said the legislation was proposed by David Atkins, who interned in Kaufman’s office as a student at Lexington High School.

“It can probably avoid some honking among other things, and some aggressive behavior,” Kaufman told the News Service. He said New Jersey has a similar law and it is “commonplace” in European countries.

The bill (H 3681) would require drivers with learner’s permits to display a decal issued by the Registry of Motor Vehicles indicating the driver’s novice status. The legislation leaves the details of the decal, including its cost, size and design, to the registry.

Rep. Cleon Turner, a Dennis Democrat, said he sees little point to the legislation and wonders about the potential burdens for families, such as his own, with multiple cars and one driver with a learner’s permit.

“It seems to be addressing a problem that doesn’t exist. I haven’t seen a huge problem in my experience,” Turner told the News Service, contemplating the potential need for “a fistful of stickers” in some cases.

A former police officer, Turner wondered whether he would be seen as a learner when driving a vehicle with a learner decal on it. Despite his reservations, Turner said he would not seek to block the bill’s advancement – an option available to any lawmaker as the Legislature winds down its two-year calendar with informal sessions.

Drivers with learner’s permits must be accompanied by a licensed driver who is at least 21 years old and learners under the age of 18 are not permitted to drive between midnight and 5 a.m. unless accompanied by a licensed parent or guardian, according to the RMV. The learner’s permits, available when someone turns 16, are valid for two years.

Kaufman’s bill would include a $50 fine for learners who do not properly display the decal, and restricts the fee for the decal to the RMV’s production and distribution costs.

Kaufman said the RMV “has expressed support” for the idea and offered no guesses about whether it could pass into law before the legislative year ends.

“Whether there’s enough momentum remains to be seen,” Kaufman said. The bill passed a preliminary vote in the House Monday, but would still need to pass the House and clear the Senate before reaching the governor’s desk.

Massachusetts Department of Transportation spokesman Michael Verseckes told the News Service the RMV is “reviewing” the bill, and said 130,000 learner’s permits are issued every year to people of all ages. Verseckes said the legislation does not specify whether it would apply to a specific age range and said the decal would need to be “removable and reusable.”

The bill cleared the Transportation Committee in October. Eleven members of the House Ways and Means Committee voted in favor of the bill, four reserved their rights and Turner voted against it in a poll that ended Monday morning.

Kaufman said the proposed policy would alert others on the road to the presence of an inexperienced motorist.

“They don’t see a nervous driver behind the wheel,” Kaufman said.

Copyright 2014 State House News Service

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