Facing a $10 billion budget shortfall in 2003, the Legislature created the Driver Responsibility Program to raise general revenue and fund trauma centers.
The DRP imposes surcharges on drivers who receive traffic violations. They must pay annual surcharges in addition to fines and court costs associated with the initial traffic ticket, or the Texas Department of Public Safety, which operates the program, suspends the driver's license.
For violations such as speeding or causing an auto accident, a driver accrues points. If a driver tallies six points over the course of three years, the DPS assesses an annual surcharge for the next three consecutive years. It is possible for a driver to get all six points from one incident. Annual surcharges are automatically assessed for violations such as driving while intoxicated, driving without insurance and driving without a license. Surcharges fees range from $100 to $2,000, depending on the violation.
The surcharges, which are cumulative, could add up to thousands of dollars.
While the program has helped Texas bring in $340 million to state trauma centers, more than $1 billion in fines and surcharges that have gone unpaid. Unpaid surcharges have led to the suspension of 1.2 million drivers' licenses.
Critics have charged that by suspending licenses because of unpaid surcharges and then jailing people caught driving without a license, the state created debtors’ prisons. Some lawmakers have called for abolishing the program altogether.
As a result of the problems with the program, the Texas Public Safety Commission, at the behest of state lawmakers, has proposed reforms that would result in reduced fine amounts based on the offender’s income. The commission also proposed amnesty for some with unpaid surcharges.