Financial responsibility law
Massachusetts drivers are required to have four types of insurance coverage: personal injury protection (with a required minimum of $8,000 per person, per accident), injury to others (per person $20,000 , per accident $40,000), injury as a result of an uninsured/underinsured vehicle (per person $20,000, per accident $40,000), and property damage (per accident $5,000). The premium must include the names of all potential drivers of that vehicle whatever the relationship to the owner, unless the household member is only in possession of a learner’s permit. At the time of filing an accident claim, previous failure to list even an occasional user of the car on the policy might result in the insurance company refusing to pay, regardless of whether that person was present during the accident.
Beyond the risk of having their license suspended and their car’s registration suspended, those who drive uninsured in the Bay State are looking at a $500 fine for a first offense, with repeat offenders risking $5,000 and a year in jail. There is also the impact of the violation on the rate of one’s premium. In addition, the driver may be personally required to pay for any damages resulting from the accident, if determined to be at fault.
An uninsured driver may also be obliged to obtain an SR-22 certificate of financial responsibility, commonly taking the form of an identification card, that serves as proof the driver has secured insurance that covers all the state’s minimum liability requirements.
On a positive note, in 2009 only 4.5% of motorists in Massachusetts were uninsured, compared to the national average of 13.8%.
Driving safety laws
In recent years, the United States has seen an increase in the number of accidents caused by potentially distracting technologies such as cell phones. The National Safety Council reported in 2014 that a shocking 26% of car accidents could be blamed on drivers being distracted by the use of cell phones. (Surprisingly, though, only 5% of accidents were determined to be caused by texting.)
To address such concerns, in 2010 Massachusetts implemented something unambiguously called the Safe Driving Law. Under this law, a driver who sends or receives text messages or email on a mobile phone or personal electronic device or laptop, even if the vehicle has come to a halt in traffic, can be fined $100 for a first offense, $250 for a second, and $500 for a third. A motorist over 18 years old can use a mobile phone so long as one hand remains on the wheel, but a violation of this caveat can result in a $35 fine for the first offense, $75 for a second if within a year’s time, and $150 for a third within a year’s time. The restrictions and punishments for a juvenile operator, however, are much more strict. A first-time violation can earn a fine of $100 and a license suspension of 60 days, a second violation can bring a $250 fine and a suspension of 180 days, and a third offense is a whopping $500 fine with a suspension of one year.
When one has their vehicle inspected in Massachusetts, there are numerous requirements related to auto safety that the person checking the car will be looking for. Beyond obvious things like seat belts and airbags, the inspector will make sure the vehicle’s height has not been altered, that the fuel tank is properly capped, that the wheels are sound, and the horn is functioning. Windows will be checked for tinting, windshield wipers and the windshield wash tested for proper function. Headlights, hazard lights, and reflectors will be looked at, as will the rearview and side view mirrors. The fenders, bumpers, fuel tank, floor pan, and the vehicle’s frame will be checked. The steering wheel, suspension, shocks, and springs will similarly be examined. The exhaust system will be checked, along with the brakes, and of course the registration, VIN, and license plates will all be verified. Though a lot of ground is covered, typically this process takes only about 12 minutes.
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners tells us that the national average for car insurance in 2010 was $907.38, so Massachusetts tends toward the higher end of things, with an average insurance cost of $1,604. Of course, costs can vary widely based on location, so that a policy in the northern Massachusetts town of Templeton might only be $904, while a policy in downtown Boston could run an astronomical $2058. Other factors affecting the cost of insurance, beyond location, are the make and age of one’s vehicle, one’s driving record, and how long a time the person in question has been driving.
Comprehensive coverage will come in handy in the event of theft. In 2009, the rate of car thefts in Massachusetts per 1,000 vehicles was 2.18, this being below the national average in 2010, which was 2.99. Comprehensive and collision coverage are optional according to state law, but they will be required by the lender if a car loan is in effect or if the vehicle is being leased. Other optional areas of coverage are rental, and towing/labor coverage.
Whereas Bay State motorists with safe driving records are allowed insurance discounts, those with a history of violations sufficient to label them unsafe drivers are required to pay higher premiums. This is all in accordance with a system called the SDIP: the Massachusetts Safe Driver Insurance Plan. New drivers will pay a higher premium, such as that paid by drivers deemed unsafe, until they can establish a record of safe operation. However, it is allowable for an individual insurance company to use their own merit system if they so desire, rather than the state’s SDIP, in order to determine the cost of one’s premium.
Massachusetts takes its auto safety seriously, as is reflected in the laws governing operation of a motor vehicle, and in the requirements for car insurance. As always, though, in the end automotive safety is in the hands of you, the driver.