Since 2003, drivers in Texas who were convicted of certain crimes, including DWI and driving without insurance, have had to pay state surcharges on top of regular fines. Recently, however, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee has called for the program to be dropped.

The Texas Driver Responsibility Program was created to help raise money for highways and trauma care centers through fines paid by drivers convicted of DWI and other violations. Eight years later, however, neither of those causes has seen much profit. Highway initiatives haven't seen any money from the program, and trauma centers have only seen a fraction of the amount they were anticipating.

So, why isn't the program working? The original plan is failing because most people - nearly 60 percent - cannot afford to pay or have refused to pay the surcharges, the largest of which comes with a DWI conviction. For a first-time DWI offender, the surcharge is $1,000 per year for three years. That amount jumps to $2,000 per year if the person's blood alcohol content is twice the legal limit. Drivers who are convicted of driving with an invalid license or driving without insurance are subject to a surcharge of $250 per year for three years. Each of these surcharges is added to the normal fines that come with these violations.

Under this program, drivers lose their license if they do not pay. The Senate committee members say that this program is only adding to the 1.2 million unlicensed drivers that already exist in the state of Texas, something that is unacceptable in their eyes. On top of that, the drivers that cannot or will not pay the surcharges now owe the state more than $1.1 billion.

To help combat this problem, the Texas Department of Public Safety began an amnesty program in January that helps drivers who owe money but can't afford to pay it. The program allows drivers to pay 10 percent of the surcharges in exchange for the return of their license.

Despite the new amnesty program, the Senate committee has deemed that the surcharges are not effectively changing the behavior of Texas drivers. And since fines aren't being paid, the program is not serving its original purpose. It will be interesting to see if state legislature decides to end the program.


The Houston Chronicle: "Texas may drop extra charge in DWI, no-insurance cases," 7 March 2011