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Texas Axing Driver Responsibility Program, Raising DWI FinesTexas is ending its controversial Driver Responsibility Program that requires an annual surcharge for people convicted for driving violations, including driving while intoxicated. Statistics suggest that more than 1 million Texas drivers will be eligible to regain their driver’s licenses – some immediately and some when the program officially ends on Sept. 1. Civil liberties advocates have criticized the program for disproportionately affecting low-income traffic offenders. However, the news is not completely positive for people facing DWI charges. In exchange for eliminating the Driver Responsibility Program, Texas is increasing its fines for people convicted of DWI.

Driver Responsibility Program

Texas enacted the Driver Responsibility Program in 2003 to charge an additional fee beyond the fine charged upon conviction for a traffic violation. Drivers whose licenses were suspended must pay an annual surcharge to the Texas Department of Public Safety for three years in order to regain their licenses. For DWI convictions, the annual surcharge was:

  • $1,000 for a first offense;
  • $1,500 for a second offense; and
  • $2,000 for DWI with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.16 or greater.

The Austin Community Law Center had filed a lawsuit against Texas, claiming that the program placed too great of a financial burden on people with low incomes. Many Texas residents either did not understand or could not afford the surcharges and were left without a driver’s license as a result. Texas will wipe out the remaining surcharges on Sept. 1, and drivers will be able to reinstate their licenses if they pay the reinstatement fee and resolve any issues that are not related to the Driver Responsibility Program.

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Lawsuit Claims Texas's Driver Responsibility Program Unfair to Low-Income OffendersThe Austin Community Law Center has filed a lawsuit against the state of Texas, challenging the state’s Driver Responsibility Program that levies fines against drivers whose licenses have been suspended for violations such as driving while intoxicated. The lawsuit, filed in conjunction with the national civil rights organization Equal Justice Under the Law, claims that the DRP disproportionately punishes low-income offenders who cannot afford the fines they are required to pay to regain their licenses. The lawsuit states that 1.4 million Texas residents have suspended driver’s licenses because they have not been able to pay the DRP surcharge.

Fine System

A court may punish a person convicted for a traffic violation such as a DWI by sentencing him or her to prison, issuing a fine, and suspending his or her driver’s license. Texas’s Driver Responsibility Program imposes additional fines on people whose licenses have been suspended. As part of its program, the DRP:

  • Issues the fines as an annual surcharge for three years;
  • Requires the driver to pay the surcharge as a lump sum or in monthly installments; and
  • Will suspend the license of a driver who misses a payment.

The surcharge amount depends on the offense. There is a $1,000 annual surcharge for a first-time DWI offense, which increases to $1,500 for any subsequent offense. A DWI with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.16 or greater has a $2,000 annual surcharge.

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