Following news that a Hopkinton school bus driver was charged with his third drunken driving offense — this time while driving a bus full of student athletes — we wondered: How many times can a Massachusetts driver be charged with Operating While Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs (OUI) before he or she loses a driver’s license forever?
It turns out it’s actually pretty hard to permanently lose your driver’s license from accumulated OUIs in this state. Even killing someone while driving under the influence may not be enough.
The school bus driver, Robert E. Murphy, 59, of Ashland, was arrested and charged with operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol and operating a motor vehicle to endanger. This is the third OUI Murphy has been charged with, though his last was 25 years ago, WBZ reports.
In general, just being charged with an OUI offense — no matter how many times — is not enough to have a license suspended or revoked.
Assuming the driver did not refuse to be tested for drugs and alcohol (in which case the penalties are harsher), the first and second OUI convictions are misdemeanors, and the license is suspended for one and two years, respectively. If the driver qualifies for a hardship license, he could be back on the road in as soon as three months, according to Joseph Higgins, a Massachusetts-based OUI attorney. Some drivers may be given a hardship license if they prove they have no other way to get to work, school, or necessary medical treatments without driving themselves. However, in the case of a second offense, their vehicle will be outfitted with an Ignition Interlock Device, which requires them to take a breath test before starting their car and at random intervals while driving, said Higgins.
The third time a person is convicted of an OUI, the offense becomes a felony, according to Chapter 90, Section 24 of Massachusetts State Law, and the license is suspended for up to eight years and carries a mandatory jail sentence of at least of 180 days. The first and second convictions are considered misdemeanors, regardless of whether the driver refused to take a breath test.
It takes a fourth conviction for permanent consequences to possibly become a reality for drivers. But even here there are many factors, such as entering an alcohol education program, that might keep a driver from losing his or her license indefinitely, said Higgins. It could take five convictions until lifetime license revocation is a possibility.
Even killing someone while driving under the influence may not be enough: The only hard and fast rule when it comes to getting a license taken away for life is if a driver kills someone while under the influence, and has had at least one prior OUI offense.
Stricter legal rules may apply for school bus drivers, who hold a driver’s license that allows them to operate a vehicle that carries 15 or more passengers. In some cases, however, the driver may lose their commercial license, but will still be able to drive under a regular license, said Higgins.