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Texas Legislators Say Driver Surcharge Program Is Like Debtors' Prison

Some Texas lawmakers have compared it to a debtors' prison. They're talking about the state's Driver Responsibility Program, which levies heavy surcharges for certain traffic offenses, including DWI.

The annual fees are applied in addition to court costs and other penalties, and if drivers don't pay, they lose their licenses or face jail time. A bipartisan group of lawmakers intends to reform the program or eliminate it altogether.

Legislators are aware of the fact that the program has a disproportionate impact on lower-income Texans.

The Driver Responsibility Program, which has been in effect since 2003, has led to the collection of $1.5 billion in fees, but drivers have been assessed for a total of $3.6 billion during that time. So far 1.3 million people's licenses have been suspended for nonpayment.

A portion of the collected fees has been used to fund medical care for trauma victims across the state, and one challenge for lawmakers is to develop another strategy for funding trauma care.

The surcharge for a DWI conviction is particularly high.

Currently, 1.84 million Texans are required to pay additional fees under the Driver Responsibility Program. The annual fees apply to a number of alleged offenses:

  • $100 for getting six or more points on your driving record over a three-year span
  • An additional $25 fee for every additional point
  • $100 if you're caught with an expired license
  • $250 if you drive with no insurance or no license
  • $1,000 for a DWI conviction

Inability to pay the surcharges has resulted in many people losing their jobs, and legislators are currently looking for an expedient way to fix the problem. However, finding a solution may have to wait until the next legislative session.

Charged with drunk driving? Don't hesitate to protect your rights.

People in North Texas know how important it is to be able to drive to work and handle other routine tasks with the use of a vehicle. If you've been pulled over for DWI, then you're facing not only license suspension and possible jail time; you could be saddled with heavy fees in addition to court costs and other penalties.

What you should not do is assume that a DWI charge automatically leads to a conviction. There may be viable options for protecting your rights and driver's license. To learn more about the legal process and defending your rights, please see Nix | Poet's DWI defense overview. With offices in McKinney and Sherman, we represent clients throughout North Texas.

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