State surcharge program is broken, badly in need of a fix

Posted Wednesday, Mar. 27, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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A bipartisan group of state lawmakers is citing "unintended consequences" in calling for repeal of a bill passed by the Legislature 10 years ago to help decrease the number of drunk drivers, make uninsured motorists more responsible and raise a large amount of money for trauma centers and highway projects.

The Texas Driver Responsibility Program adds a surcharge -- to be paid during a three-year period -- to fines of those guilty of driving without a license, driving drunk, not having a valid license, having no insurance and other traffic violations based on a point system.

For example, a first offense DWI carries a $1,000 surcharge for three years . A $250 surcharge is added to the fine of someone without a valid license or insurance.

State Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth calls the program "dysfunctional" because in many ways its effects have been just the opposite of its intentions. He has joined with three others, including one of the original bill's sponsors, in supporting HB104 to repeal the act.

The sponsors point out that less than 40 percent of those fined have paid the surcharges, resulting in 1.3 million people owing $1.7 billion.

A report by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition says since the law's passage, many more people are driving without a license. The share of fatal automobile crashes that involved alcohol has increased from 26 percent to 34 percent. More unlicensed and uninsured people are on the roads, increasing insurance costs for other Texas drivers

This program is broken and badly in need of fixing. But repeal should not mean lawmakers give up on trying to reduce DWIs or providing adequate dollars for trauma centers.

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