July 01, 2020

House Expected to Pass Moulton’s RMV Modernization Plan as Part of HR 2

Moulton introduced The SAFE DRIVERS Act last year in the wake of the deaths of seven New Hampshire motorcyclists including five Marine veterans. The driver who killed them was licensed in Massachusetts because the RMV ignored paper notifications

WASHINGTON — Today, the House of Representatives will vote on HR 2, the Moving Forward Act. It includes a plan by Rep. Seth Moulton that will allow states to modernize the way RMV’s and DMV’s share data. The goal is to keep dangerous drivers off the road. HR 2 is expected to pass.

Moulton introduced The SAFE DRIVERS Act in September following a June 21, 2019 crash in New Hampshire where a commercially-licensed driver plowed into a group of motorcyclists, many of whom were Marine veterans as they traveled to a charity event. Seven people including five Marine veterans died in the crash.

Investigators discovered incidents in Texas and Connecticut that should have prevented the driver of the truck that hit the motorcyclists from keeping a license. In the process, the investigation exposed systemic failures at the RMV. The RMV failed to process thousands of suspended licenses. Several RMV officials later resigned.

“If government used technology the rest of us take for granted, the seven patriots who died in the Jarheads Motorcycle crash would be alive today. Dangerous drivers should be taken off the road, but right now they could be in the car or truck next to you because Congress and state governments aren’t innovating.” Moulton said. “We deserve better than mail bins full of notices piling up in government offices, and passing this bill will help get us there.”

In an age when the phones of drivers log where their cars are parked automatically and people receive notifications about the number of steps they have taken each day, many state DMVs and RMVs still use paper notices to tell other states when drivers have out-of-state incidents that should cause them to lose their licenses. The SAFE DRIVERS Act’s inclusion in HR 2 would allow states to build digital communication systems that help them identify drivers who receive out-of-state driving infractions in near real time.

Background: 

The State And Federal Electronic Data Records to Improve Vehicle-operator Eligibility Reporting Systems Act of 2019 (The SAFE DRIVERS ACT)

On June 21, 2019, the driver of a Dodge pickup truck towing a trailer collided with a group of motorcyclists belonging to the Jarheads Motorcycle Club on a New Hampshire highway. The drivers were riding to a charity event. The crash killed five Marine veterans and three other club members.

After the crash, news reports revealed that the Registry of Motor Vehicles in Massachusetts received a notification from the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles on May 29th that the truck’s 23-year-old driver, Volodymyr Zhukovskyy, was arrested on May 11th in Connecticut for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, revving his engine repeatedly in a Wal-Mart parking lot and jumping around inside his vehicle. The MA RMV failed to act on this notification. 

According to The Boston Globe, after the Connecticut incident, on June 3rd, 18 days prior to the crash in New Hampshire, Zhukovskyy also crashed a car carrier in Baytown, Texas. He told the local police a car cut him off and ran him off the road. Police were unable to locate the car, and later that night Zhukovskyy was arrested at a Texas Denny’s for acting erratically. Police officers reported at the time that Zhukovskyy was intoxicated. He was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia for carrying a crack pipe.

After the New Hampshire crash, the MA RMV’s director resigned, and Governor Baker ordered a review of the process by which the state acts on information from other states that Massachusetts drivers should have their licenses revoked.

The review found that 1,607 drivers licensed by the state should not have had a license because, according to The Boston Globe, “tens of thousands of paper notices from other states were apparently unopened and left to languish in mail bins at the RMV’s Quincy office.”

A state official said then: “There is no evidence that the RMV has (at least not for many years) had a consistent practice of sending out mail or electronic notification of violations or suspension actions taken in Massachusetts to other states in ‘real time.”

The review also found that the state was not notifying other states of infractions that occurred in Massachusetts. Instead, the RMV was uploading information into the National Driver Register, a computerized database that is only checked by states when a driver applies for a license or renew their licenses. Meaning, drivers like Zhukovskyy could be on the roads across the country for months or years until they need to renew their licenses.

Moulton’s Bill

After the crash, Rep. Moulton and his team began researching ways to build a next generation, digital notification system for RMV nationwide so an incident like this never happens again.

They found that if Congress alters a specific type of transportation grant so that states can use them to invest in new technology, the nation’s Departments and Registries of Motor Vehicles can quickly build the infrastructure to connect with each other in real time.

In September 2019, Rep. Moulton introduced The State and Federal Electronic Data Records to Improve Vehicle-operator Eligibility Reporting Systems (SAFE DRIVERS) Act of 2019. The bill allows states to develop or acquire stronger state traffic safety information systems and build interoperability with other state and national data systems. It amends an existing grant in US law, 405(c) State Traffic Safety Information System Improvements, to let states repurpose that money for the creation of real-time notification systems and several other uses.

The SAFE DRIVERS Act created nine new ways states can use an existing grant to modernize their RMV’s and DMVs in order to better share data. Some examples of ways the grants would be able to be used include linking highway safety databases to between states and standardizing data so that state systems can work together to identify dangerous drivers. A full list of the changes is available on page 725 of the legislation, in Sec. 3007 “National Priority Safety Programs” (a)(4).

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