Legal Battles

Texas House Votes to Kill One of State’s Most Loathed Programs

Tickets may no longer end in a cascade of problems for Texas drivers.
Tickets may no longer end in a cascade of problems for Texas drivers. Nomadsoul1
It's hard to find anyone who likes Texas' Driver Responsibility Program. Civil rights groups hate it. The Texas Tea Party hates it. The Observer's readers, judging from the number of emails we've received about it, hate it. With a unanimous vote Thursday, the Texas House of Representatives showed that it hates the program, too.

Texas' Driver Responsibility Program imposes surcharges on those drivers who do things like driving without a licence or driving under the influence. The surcharges, which are imposed on top of the standard fines, range from $250 per year for three years for driving with an invalid license to $2,000 per year for three years for a DWI in which the driver is caught with a blood alcohol level of 0.16 — twice the legal limit — or higher. Drivers who accumulate too many points on their licenses for moving violations or moving violations resulting in a crash are also subject to surcharges.

While the surcharges can be easily dealt with by those who can afford to pay them, they turn into a trap for those who can't.

“This unfair license suspension scheme particularly targets Texas’ most impoverished residents, who are often unaware additional charges are owed under the DRP,” Phil Telfeyan, the lead attorney in a lawsuit seeking to end the program and executive director of Equal Justice Under Law, said in December. “Individuals who cannot pay will often lose their job and their home — becoming homeless — for a minor ticket that wealthier drivers simply pay and forget.”

"Texans will no longer be forced into an additional unreasonable financial burden caused by an endless maze of fines and fees that further set them back in providing for their families." — Sharon Watkins Jones

tweet this
According to numbers obtained by the Texas Tribune, 1.4 million Texans were ineligible to obtain driver's licenses because of the program as of January 2018. The bill passed by the House on Thursday would wipe out all existing surcharges, in addition to preventing them from being imposed moving forward.

“The Texas House is putting people first in voting to end the disastrous Driver Responsibility Program,” said Sharon Watkins Jones, political strategies director of the ACLU of Texas. “By ending this program, Texans will no longer be forced into an additional unreasonable financial burden caused by an endless maze of fines and fees that further set them back in providing for their families. We urge the Texas Senate to finally take advantage of this bill when it arrives in their chamber and put an end to the Driver Responsibility Program.”
KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young