Speeding ticket facts about Chisholm Trail Parkway
Nearly 1 million Texans will be able to get their driver’s licenses back Sept. 1, when the state’s driver responsibility program ends.
The program was created to encourage people to drive better and raise money for trauma care but it ended up creating financial hardships for Texans convicted of traffic violations who had to pay fines and then annual surcharges to keep their licenses from being suspended. That could total thousands of dollars over three years, lawmakers say.
“This program trapped low-income Texans in a cycle of surcharges, fines and fees that left them without a driver’s license, which only made the repayment of debt more difficult,” said state Rep. Ramon Romero Jr., a Fort Worth Democrat who was one of the co-authors of the measure.
“Hundreds of thousands of Texans were charged fees, after losing their license for not paying fees, because they continued to drive to work or school without a license,” he said. “It was a system set up for failure and lasted for far too long.”
The program ends Sept. 1, under House Bill 2048, which recently was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott. The bill was authored by state Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond.
As of Sept. 1, lawmakers say more than 630,000 people are eligible to immediately get their licenses back — and another 350,000 will be after they pay a reinstatement fee.
Surcharges are due until Sept. 1, then they will be forgiven, Romero said.
Money generated through the program for trauma care will be made up in other ways.
For instance, state traffic fines will grow from $30 to $50, the $2 fee drivers pay for motor vehicle insurance policies to be issued will increase to $4 and fines for some specific offenses will grow, according to the new law.
In the case of driving while intoxicated, the first conviction will cost $3,000. A second conviction in 36 months will cost $4,500 and a conviction where a person’s alcohol concentration level was 0.16 or more would cost $6,000, an analysis of the bill shows.
The driver responsibility program, which began in 2003, assigns points to Class C traffic violations and adds surcharges once a driver accumulates six or more points in three years. Points stay on a driver’s record for three years.
A regular moving violation in Texas, for instance, adds two points to a person’s driver’s record. A traffic violation that leads to an accident can add three points, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.
The cost of surcharges varies.
Driving without insurance could lead to a surcharge of as much as $250; driving with an invalid or suspended license is $250.
Surcharges can reach $1,000 for a first conviction of driving while intoxicated and up to $2,000 for driving while intoxicated if a person’s blood alcohol level is 0.16 or more.
Tarrant County Justice of the Peace Sergio De Leon, who presided over countless driver’s license revocation hearings in his courtroom, said some people told him their surcharges cost them between $150 and $400 a month.
And one woman told him she had paid more than $7,000 or $8,000 in surcharges.
“A lot of people were digging themselves into a hole they couldn’t financially get themselves out of,” De Leon said. “I’m so happy this is going away.”
The American Civil Liberties Union helped lead the charge to eliminate the program.
“The Driver Responsibility Program has forced thousands of Texans to pay for their liberty which is no justice at all,” said Terri Burke, executive director for the ACLU of Texas. “Suspending someone’s license only further removes them from the workforce, leaving them without money to pay additional fees.”
Supporters of eliminating the program say it was unpopular and never generated enough money for the state’s trauma account.
Opponents say the new fees and fines created in the bill wrongly target the automobile insurance industry to help cover the costs of trauma care. And they note the fee for insurance policies went up in 2011 and now is being hiked again.
Even the author of the original bill creating the program in recent years has said the program doesn’t work.
“It’s clear that the DRP has created ore problems than it has solved,” former state Rep. Mike Krusee, a Tyler Republican who passed the bill creating the program, wrote to lawmakers in 2015. “The program has generated far less revenue than anticipated, has not improved public safety and has increased financial hardships for low-income families.
“This program has created backlogs in our courts and passed on undue costs to our counties. What’s worse, the DRP has led to more uninsured and unlicensed drivers on the road.”