The Dallas Morning News reported earlier this year on surcharges the state of Texas assesses to Texas drivers who are convicted of offenses such as driving while intoxicated, failure to maintain car insurance, and driving without a valid license or with an invalid license. These driver surcharges were enacted as a part of The Driver Responsibility Program in 2003.
The purpose of The Driver Responsibility Program was to address several nagging problems at the time including:
- A rise in drunken driving
- A large and growing number of uninsured motorists
- Lack of funding for hospital trauma care
- Lack of funding for new highways
Most state programs like this have two goals: create new revenue streams to help pay for needed things and punish bad behavior. The surcharges for a driver’s bad behavior are to be paid annually for a three year period and include:
- DWI first offense, $1,000 a year
- DWI second offense, $1,500 a year
- DWI conviction for driving at twice the legal limit, a 0.16 level or greater, $2,000 a year
- Failure to maintain valid car insurance, $250 a year (financial responsibility)
- Driving with an invalid license, $250 a year
- Driving without a license, $100 a year
These surcharges must be paid in addition to the normal fines and court costs levied for such offenses, not to mention the increased premium for car insurance.
How’s The Driver Responsibility Program working? Not so good! According to the News report:
- Alcohol related offenses are climbing, fatal crashes involving alcohol increased from 26% to 34% since this bill was enacted.
- DWI conviction rates have declined by 10% during the same time period.
- Texas highways have received no additional funding.
- Millions of Texas drivers are still driving without insurance; Texans now pay about $1billion a year in uninsured motorist premiums to protect themselves in the event they’re hit by someone driving without insurance.
- 1.3 Million Texas drivers don’t have a valid driver’s license.
- Texas trauma centers have received only a fraction of what was originally promised in funding.
Approximately 60% of drivers who’ve incurred these surcharges have been unwilling or unable to pay them. These drivers owe about $1.7 billion to the state of Texas and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be collected any time soon.
Several of the authors of The Driver Responsibility Program, as well as current representatives are calling for an end to the program. Representatives such as Lon Burnam of Fort Worth and Sylvester Turner of Houston call this legislation an example of policy that had great intentions but delivered a poor outcome. They maintain the result of this legislation has only hurt the poor.
Rebutting their argument is the Texas Hospital Association which is fighting their attempts to kill this legislation. The Association contends the loss of this legislation would sever a source of funding for indigent patients who are treated at trauma centers even though the funding has not lived up to what was promised.
What do you think? Share your thoughts on whether Texas keep or repeal The Driver Responsibility Program on our Google + and Facebook pages, or in the comments section of our blog. But don’t stop there; let your state representatives know what you think! After all, if it’s a government by and for the people, we should have a voice in the outcome.