1,600 Dangerous Drivers Have Lost Their Licenses This Month. Are We Actually Any Safer?

The Registry of Motor Vehicles office building on Haymarket Square in downtown Boston.
The Registry of Motor Vehicles office building on Haymarket Square in downtown Boston.

Last month, Volodymyr Zhukovskyy, a 23-year-old from West Springfield, drove his pickup truck into a group of motorcyclists on a rural New Hampshire road, killing seven of them and injuring three more.

The tragedy revealed a stunning bureaucratic failure at the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV), a subdivision of MassDOT. Zhukovskyy had been arrested for operating under the influence in Connecticut in May – a charge that should have triggered the suspension of his Massachusetts driver’s license.

Instead, Connecticut’s notification of Zhukovskyy’s charges, along with tens of thousands of similar notices from other states, got dumped into a mail bin and ignored for months at the RMV’s Quincy headquarters.

RMV staff are now rushing to process the backlog of paperwork. At the end of last week, the agency had suspended licenses for over 1,600 drivers, based on the neglected out-of-state notices.

But does a suspended license actually keep a dangerous driver off the roads?

In response to a data request from StreetsblogMASS, Massachusetts State Police Trooper James Deangelis reported that in 2018, police arrested or summonsed drivers about 10,900 times on charges of operating after the suspension of a license.

5,308 arrests and summonses have been made in 2019 as of July 16 – slightly behind last year’s pace, possibly due in part to the RMV’s failure to process suspensions for the past year.

That averages out to about 30 drivers caught operating with a suspended license every day across the state.

Deangelis stresses that operating after suspension “is a strongly enforced thing. If we catch someone doing it, that person is pulled off that road immediately.”

Still, the sheer volume of arrests and summonses suggest that losing a license is a weak deterrent to keep dangerous drivers off the roads. Lots of drivers who have been identified as hazards to public safety clearly keep on driving, whether or not they’ve been caught in the RMV’s dragnet of forgotten paperwork.

It’s not hard to understand why this is, in a state and nation that are overwhelmingly designed for drivers to the detriment of everyone else’s safety and mobility.

If driving feels like a necessity – if your neighborhood has no sidewalks, the buses only come once an hour, and your jobs and grocery store and your kids’ daycare are all on the other side of the highway interchange – you’re probably going to drive whether or not the state gives you permission to.

To actually keep dangerous drivers off the roads, they need better options to get around without taking their blunt-force trauma machines with them. And failing that, the rest of us need safer streets to limit the damage they can do.


New flexpost-protected bike lanes have been installed on the Craigie Bridge in front of the Boston Museum of Science, seen in this August 8 photograph looking south towards Boston.

Eyes on the Street: New Bikeways on Charles River Dam

One of the first stories that StreetsblogMASS covered was a May public meeting on MassDOT’s plans for a road diet and new flexpost-protected bike lanes on Craigie Bridge (also known as Charles River Dam Road) in front of the Boston Museum of Science. Eyes on the street: the new flexpost-protected bike lanes have been installed […]
A double-parked Lyft driver waits outside of the South Station bus terminal on Thursday, August 8, 2019.

Uber/Lyft Have Big Impacts to Boston's Traffic

Uber and Lyft have finally come clean: Their drivers are causing a significant share of the congestion in America’s most transit-dense cities, particularly in Boston. A new study jointly commissioned by the two app-based cab companies found that they have a massive footprint in San Francisco, Washington and Boston, but the companies are affecting traffic to a lesser degree […]
The cover image from the 2019 MassDOT Pedestrian Transportation Plan.

Meet Your New Massachusetts Bike and Pedestrian Plans

Last month, MassDOT released its new statewide Bicycle Transportation Plan and a separate Statewide Pedestrian Transportation Plan, the culmination of a two-year planning effort organized around the vision of making biking and walking “a safe, comfortable, and convenient option” for everyone in Massachusetts. The state is also putting some significant money on the table to make […]