End to Driver Responsibility Program brings 1.4 million Texans back on the road

Critics called the Texas Driver Responsibility Program irresponsible.

Beginning in 2003, the program levied a surcharge on people convicted of certain traffic violations. The surcharge had to be paid for three years.

Opponents say the program caused more people to drive without a license in Texas. It has since been quietly taken off the books in Texas.

Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill that went into effect this month that wiped out pending surcharges for about 1.4 million Texas drivers and reinstating driver's licenses suspended under the program that was supposed to make drivers responsible while increasing funding for uncompensated trauma care.

More than a million Texans had their driver's license suspended in 2018 because they had not or could not pay surcharges for three years that were assessed after they received traffic citations.

Oscar Blanco was among those affected by the program.

"I just wasn't paying my surcharges or whatever because they all added up because I had a lot of tickets," Blanco admitted. "But now that they waived the surcharges for everybody, I'm able to get my license and try to drive correctly."

Grand Prairie Municipal Court Judge Bill Mazur says the added surcharge varied from time to time, but it was typically around $135 a year for three years.

"And that would be true on no operators license, driving while license invalid, no insurance," he explained.

If the surcharge wasn't paid, your license would be suspended and a warrant would be issued.

"Good people don't belong in jail," said driver Jeantavus White, who was affected by the program. "Sometimes, you just make the wrong mistake."

Judge Mazur saw a lot of that.

"Twenty-five percent or so of my entire docket on jail calls when I do the arraignments every single day is people in this position: thousands of dollars' worth of fines," the judge said. "Multiple cities because people still go to work."

"It's been a minute since I've been driving legally," White said. "It'll be good not looking over my shoulder anymore. I appreciate it."

Leon Cross was crossed up by the surcharges that he couldn't catch up. He is grateful that what he owes is going away. It's part of almost two billion owed to the state in surcharges that were never collected.

"It probably was about $600-$700," Cross said. "I didn't have that money to pay them. So I'm glad they did their thing with that. That's a blessing with dressing."

"As of September 1, the legislature realized that this was a mistake," Judge Mazur said. "That we're creating a whole new class of criminals, people spending time in jail for really technical problems."

Uncompensated trauma care funding will now largely come from an increased fine on first time driving while intoxicated convictions.

If your license was suspended for any other reason or if you have an active warrant or current traffic tickets, there is no forgiveness there. People may also have to pay a small administrative fee.

More information can be found here: http://www.dps.texas.gov/DriverLicense/FAQs/drpIndex.htm