Attorney General's Opinion
Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal
December 20, 2001
The Honorable John J. Ronan
Deputy Chief Court Administrator
231 Capitol Avenue
Hartford, CT 06106
Dear Judge Ronan:
This is in response to your letter dated December 4, 2000, in which you request our opinion on whether judicial marshals who transport prisoners in motor vehicles between various facilities within the State of Connecticut are required to have a special operator's license. According to your letter, approximately seventy percent of the vehicles used by the marshals are vans designed to hold eighteen prisoners, plus the driver and a passenger in the cab, while twenty percent of the vehicles are designed to transport twelve prisoners, plus the driver and a passenger in the cab. The remaining vehicles are smaller and hold fewer than eight prisoners. Based upon the facts that you have provided, it is our opinion that the judicial marshals who operate vehicles designed to carry ten or more passengers are required to obtain a special license from the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles.
Conn. Gen. Stat. §14-36 provides: "Except as otherwise provided by this section and section § 14-40a, no person shall operate a motor vehicle on any public highway of this state until he has obtained a motor vehicle operator's license" from the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles ("Commissioner"). The Commissioner is authorized to issue various classes of licenses depending on the type of motor vehicle the person intends to operate. See, Conn. Gen. Stat. §14-36a. For the most part, the types of vehicles described in your letter fall into two categories, namely, a "commercial motor vehicle" or a "service bus".
A "commercial motor vehicle" is defined, inter alia, to mean a vehicle which "is designed to transport sixteen or more passengers, including the driver . . .". Conn. Gen. Stat. §14-1(11)(B). "No person shall operate a commercial motor vehicle used for passenger transportation on any public highway of this state until he has obtained a commercial driver's license with a passenger endorsement from the commissioner . . .". Conn. Gen. Stat. 14-44(a)(1). See also, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 14-1(10) (Definition of "commercial driver's license" or "CDL"). According to your letter, seventy percent of the vans used to transport prisoners fall within the definition of a commercial motor vehicle and, therefore, the judicial marshals who operate these vans must, under the plain language of the statute, obtain a commercial driver's license.
A "'[s]ervice bus' includes any vehicle except a vanpool vehicle or a school bus designed and regularly used to carry ten or more passengers when used in private service for the transportation of persons without charge to the individual". Conn. Gen. Stat. § 14-1(72). Subsection (a)(3) of Section 14-44 provides, inter alia, that "[n]o person shall operate a . . . service bus until he has obtained an operator's license in accordance with the provisions of this section." Again, according to your letter, approximately twenty percent of the vans used to transport prisoners are designed to carry twelve passengers, plus a driver and a passenger in the cab. The size of these vehicles, therefore, is consistent with the vehicle dimensions for a service bus as defined in § 14-1(72). On the other hand, the service bus definition refers to a vehicle being used in "private service" and thus a question arises as to whether the transport of prisoners by state judicial marshals is an activity that is reasonably characterized as "private service". We believe that this transportation activity does constitute "private service" as that term is used in the motor vehicle licensing statutes.
To ascertain the legislature's intent in using the term "private service" in the definition of "service bus", we are guided by certain well-established principles of statutory construction. "The process of statutory interpretation involves a reasoned search for the intention of the legislature." Willoughby v. New Haven, 254 Conn. 404, 410, 757 A.2d 1083 (2000). In other words, we seek to determine, in a reasoned manner, the meaning of the statutory language as applied to the facts of the situation presented to us. "In seeking to determine that meaning, we look to the words of the statute itself, to the legislative history and circumstances surrounding its enactment, to the legislative policy it was designed to implement, and its relationship to existing legislation and common law principles governing the same general subject matter." Id. Moreover, "[i]n construing a statute, common sense must be used and [we] must assume that a reasonable and rational result was intended." Schreck v. Stamford, 250 Conn. 592, 596-97, 737 A.2d 916 (1999). Lastly, statutes should be considered as a whole with a view towards reconciling their separate parts in order to render a reasonable overall interpretation. Broadley v. Meriden, 229 Conn. 1, 6, 639 A.2d 502 (1994).
The State of Connecticut has a compelling interest in highway safety. See, Daly v. DelPonte, 225 Conn. 499, 515, 624 A.2d 876 (1993); Burns v. Barrett, 212 Conn. 176, 184, 561 A.2d 1378, cert. denied, 493 U.S. 1003, 110 S.Ct. 563, 107 L.Ed.2d 558 (1989). In furtherance of this public policy, the legislature has enacted the operator licensing statutes to ensure that drivers of motor vehicles possess at least a stated minimum of competence and skill so as to promote the safe operation of such vehicles on the public highways. Daly v. DelPonte, supra; see also, Dempsey v. Tynan, 143 Conn. 202, 207, 120 A.2d 700 (1956) ("An operator's license is purely a personal privilege issued by the state on account of fitness."); State v. Smolen, 4 Cir.Ct. 385, 390, 232 A.2d 339, cert. denied, 155 Conn. 720, 231 A.2d 283 (1967), cert. denied, 389 U.S. 1044, 88 S.Ct. 787, 19 L.Ed.2d 835 (1968) ("[F]or the safety of the public, every operator is required to obtain an operator's license . . .".). Obviously, the skills required to safely operate a small passenger car may differ significantly from the skills required to operate a large tandem trailer truck. Consequently, the legislature has differentiated between types of motor vehicles and the license a person must obtain in order to operate the different types of vehicles on public roads.
In short, the term "private service", as used in the driver licensing statutes, must be examined within the context of the legislature's overriding concern for highway safety and the goal of ensuring that those individuals who operate motor vehicles on the public highways are fit to do so. This legislative policy argues for an interpretation of the term "private service" that provides the greatest degree of protection for the public.
Within the field of transportation, the word "private" commonly refers to the situation where the transportation service is not being provided to the public at large, but rather to a select group. This distinction is reflected in the definition of a "motor bus", as opposed to a "service bus". A motor bus is "operated in whole or in part on any street or highway in a manner affording a means of transportation by indiscriminately receiving or discharging passengers, or running on a regular route or over a portion of a regular route or between fixed termini". Conn. Gen. Stat. § 14-1(44). In other words, a "motor bus" is a vehicle that provides transportation service for the general public - e.g., a Connecticut Transit bus operating on a fixed route in the City of Hartford. In marked contrast, a "service bus" is a vehicle that provides transportation services on a selective basis - e.g., a company operating a shuttle bus for its employees between a parking lot and the company's headquarters, or a church providing bus service for its congregation. A similar situation exists with respect to the distinction between a "private carrier" and a "common carrier":
Demetrion v. Edwards, 416 F.2d 958, 959 (7th Cir. 1969).
In this context, vans designed to transport twelve prisoners, plus a driver and a passenger in the cab, should be considered "service buses" within the meaning of §14-44. Judicial marshals who drive these vans, therefore, are required to obtain special operators' licenses for the "service bus" category.
Consistent with the public policy underlying our State's driver licensing laws and to ensure that those individuals who transport prisoners possess the requisite skills needed to safely operate the types of motor vehicles used in such transportation, it is our opinion that judicial marshals who operate vehicles designed to carry ten or more passengers are required to obtain a special license in the appropriate category from the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles in accordance with Section 14-44 of the Connecticut General Statutes.
Very truly yours,
Cornelius F. Tuohy
Assistant Attorney General