It sounded almost too good to be true. Two weeks ago, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill killing the state's hated Driver Responsibility Program, which has led to 1.3 million Texans having their driver's licenses suspended.
On Sept. 1, the day the program officially ends, more than 630,000 people who have no fees or suspensions that stem from something other than the DRP will immediately be eligible to have their driver's licenses reinstated, according to the Texas ACLU. About 350,000 people will be able to get their licenses back after paying reinstatement fees and a further 400,000 will be able to drive legally if they can resolve their non-DRP-related suspensions. Any remaining surcharges owed by drivers forced to enroll in the program will be wiped out, too.
So what do you do about your surcharges between now and Sept. 1?
That's the question dozens of readers have filled our inbox with since we published our story on Abbott signing the program's death warrant last Monday.
Last week, we went to the Texas Department of Public Safety looking for an answer. We didn't get much of a response, beyond a request to send our questions via email when we called, then an initial promise that the department was looking into our question, and then a week of radio silence.
Thankfully, Emily Gerrick, a senior staff attorney at the Texas Fair Defense Project, has some advice about what drivers involved in the program should do.
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1. If you're currently enrolled in the Driver Responsibility Program and your license isn't currently suspended, you might want to keep paying your surcharges for the next couple of months. — If you don't pay them or take other action, the state will still suspend your license, Gerrick says.
2. If you make three times or less the poverty level, you have a way out regardless. — "The best workaround, if someone really doesn't want to pay anything, there's something called the Incentive Program, where if you make under 300% of poverty guidelines you can apply for that. It takes one or two weeks to get it, but, if you're approved, they reduce your surcharges and they don't make you pay anything for six months," Gerrick says.
Six months gets drivers past Sept. 1, when all their fees will be wiped out anyway.
3. If you make too much for the Incentive Program, your decision comes down to your risk tolerance. — You can stop paying your surcharges if you make more than 300% of poverty, too, and they'll be wiped out on Sept. 1. In the interim, however, you'll be driving with a suspended license. Pick up a second one of those and the penalty could go up from a Class C misdemeanor to a Class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by as much as six months in jail.