Intern, Center for Effective Justice
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Jamie Scherbeh | February 20, 2018
In late January, the Texas Senate Finance Committee held an interim hearing on the Driver Responsibility Program (DRP). In past years, Texas lawmakers have faced growing pressure to repeal the DRP, a program that some attest causes unnecessary arrests, arbitrary driver’s license suspensions, and increased financial hardship among low-income Texas residents. The DRP works on either a points or conviction system. Offenders who have committed moving violations will receive 2 points, or 3 if it results in a serious accident. When offenders reach 6 points, a yearly charge of $100 for 3 years will be assessed. An additional $25 per point will be charged for every point above six. But if you are caught driving without a license, without insurance, or while intoxicated, annual charges can be up to $2,000 for a first-time offense.
Additionally, any surcharges levied under the DRP are in addition to court-mandated fines and fees, making them a form of duplicative punishment.
Established in 2003 to cover a budget shortfall and increase trauma center funding, the DRP originally gave 99% of funds to trauma centers. Unfortunately, this allocation only lasted a few years. Currently, the program distributes 49.5% of collected revenues to trauma centers, 49.5% to the Texas General Revenue Fund, and 1% to cover administrative costs. Due to the high fees assessed, only 40% of billed surcharges have actually been collected between 2004 and 2011. Factoring in money distribution, trauma centers are still lacking in funding.
For those unable to pay DRP fees, driver’s license suspensions are likely, making the program a continuous cycle of payment and punishment for low-income Texans. It is estimated that as many as 2 million Texans have lost their licenses due to this program. But these drivers are not staying home. These are people who have jobs to go to, families to provide for, and children to pick up from school. If caught driving without a license, offenders can expect another expensive fee from the DRP. The suspensions of driver’s licenses also make it more difficult to buy auto insurance. Furthermore, the program has not increased safety on the roads, as had been predicted. Driver fatalities from intoxicated drivers increased by 6% from 2003 to 2013. By reviewing the results of the program, one must pose the question of whether a program that fails to accomplish its goals and causes significant hardship among citizens is really worth keeping.
States with similar programs, like Michigan and Virginia, are overturning their programs in order to correct problems that it has caused citizens. Michigan, a state with even fewer annual fines for infractions and points, recently passed a bill that would phase out their program by the end of this year, correcting years of hardship inflicted on their citizens by loss of licenses and excessive fees. Among the states who have yet to repeal similar programs, Texas stands in the company of New Jersey and New York.
There has been dissatisfaction among both citizens and legislators regarding DRP and its effects on Texans. A large reason this program has not been overturned is due to the loss of funding for trauma care centers. But because of the inability of Texans to pay annual surcharges, citizens are paying for a program that fails to improve public safety and gives less than half of the money to the trauma centers it was originally intended to fund. Moreover, DRP threatens the livelihood of Texans who cannot afford the surcharges, upending the everyday lives of normal people. The question that must be asked: Given these financial difficulties to working citizens and their families, is it not worth it to abandon the Driver Responsibility Program and find money elsewhere to cover shortfalls in the General Revenue Fund?