DANVERS — A crash in rural New Hampshire last summer that killed seven motorcyclists prompted a shake-up at the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles and exposed major flaws in the way states communicate about dangerous drivers.
An investigation revealed that Connecticut officials alerted the Massachusetts RMV about a drunken driving arrest against Volodymyr Zhukovskyy, 23, of West Springfield, who was driving the pickup truck involved in the collision that killed seven members of the motorcycle club JarHeads MC. But the Massachusetts agency had failed to suspend his commercial driver's license.
The probe uncovered thousands of Massachusetts drivers who should have had licenses suspended for serious violations but were allowed to stay on the road.
U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, a Salem Democrat, has filed a bill that seeks to keep drivers like Zhukovskyy off the roads by tapping federal dollars to improve data collection and communication between states.
His proposal, called the Safe Drivers Act, would allow states to use a portion of federal highway safety grants for upgrades on data collection, maintenance and sharing. The bill would allocate $50 million to help states pay for new programs to track dangerous drivers and improve communication with each other.
"State agencies are not sharing driving records," Moulton said during a meeting with The Salem News editorial board Tuesday morning. "It's a problem that is acute to Massachusetts, as evidenced by this tragedy, but is also a problem across the country."
Moulton said the goal is to "incentivize states" to modernize their systems "and work together to make sure their databases are compatible" to improve communication on dangerous drivers.
Moulton used, as a backdrop, a busy RMV office in Danvers on Route 1 to publicly introduce the new legislation later that morning.
He said his bill goes to the heart of this crash, which he said he felt personally as a former Marine — five of the seven Jarheads riders killed were also Marines. He said they had done great service for their country since returning home. The riders were heading to a charity event at the time of the crash.
"There are three dates that I remember: May 11, June 3 and June 21," Moulton said, referring to the Connecticut arrest, a subsequent crash in Texas, and finally the fatal crash in New Hampshire — the first of which should have led the Massachusetts RMV to revoke Zhukovskyy's license.
"But the state of Massachusetts didn't know about these things, and as a result, he was still on the road, and killed seven people," Moulton said. "So we have to have a system in place across this country where (if) someone has a driving infraction, all the states in the country immediately know what occurred. This system has to be modernized and digitized. The fact that there are still paper records floating around here is absurd."
Just like parents know from a text message that their kids need something, Moulton said, states should have the same kind of system in place to get drivers who are a danger to others off the road.
He also pointed out that Massachusetts was failing to report drivers to other states in a way that would let them know about problem Bay State drivers instantaneously. Instead, the state was uploading the information to a database that would only be consulted when drivers' renew their licenses, which could be several years later.
The revelation that Massachusetts didn't act on the notices from Connecticut about Zhukovskyy's driving violations led to the resignation of RMV chief Erin Deveney. It also sparked an internal review that uncovered thousands of such notifications from other states languishing in bins in a Quincy storage room.
To date, licenses of more than 5,200 drivers have been suspended as RMV employees work through the backlog, according to the Department of Transportation.
Gov. Charlie Baker has called the agency's failure to act on Zhukovskyy's driving violations "deeply troubling and completely unacceptable."
He has filed legislation that would raise the state’s standards for commercial driver’s licenses above federal requirements. The proposal would require anyone applying for a commercial driver’s license to demonstrate a history of good driving and would be ineligible if they have been suspended at any time in the prior three years.
Baker has also called for the creation of a nationwide system to alert states when one of their drivers incurs a violation that could trigger a suspension in another jurisdiction.
Moulton, asked outside the RMV if he had spoken to Baker about the new bill, replied that he had received a text message about an hour earlier from Attorney General Maura Healey, thanking him for the legislation.
"I haven't heard from the governor himself, but I know that this is something that is at the forefront of his mind, and I would expect that Massachusetts would be one of the first states to apply for this grant," he said.
The Safe Drivers Act would establish a competitive grant program that could be divided up when states apply to address a specific problem, according to Moulton. He said estimates are that it would cost about $2 million to $5 million per state. It's possible the initial $50 million would cover only half the states, and then the program might have to be renewed. The idea, he said, is to get this these systems up and running as fast and efficiently as possible.
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff writer Ethan Forman can be contacted at email@example.com or 978-338-2673.