September 30, 2019 - Nearly 1.5 million Texans will now be eligible to have their driver’s licenses reinstated following the September 1st repeal of the Texas Driver Responsibility Program. This number includes:
- Nearly 635,00 people who have no other fees or underlying suspicions who will automatically have suspensions lifted;
- More than 350,000 people who will be required to pay a reinstatement fee, but will then have their suspension lifted, and
- Almost 400,000 people who will be required to resolve other non-DRP issues but can then have their suspension lifted (such as failure to appear, or failure to pay).
What is the Texas Driver Responsibility Program? The Texas Driver Responsibility Program has been widely criticized for adding extra annual fees—or surcharges—in addition to the cost of a ticket and court fees. The DRP, which was enacted by the 78th Texas Legislature, required residents convicted of certain traffic offenses on or after September 1, 2003, to pay an annual surcharge in order to maintain their driver’s license. These surcharges ranged from $100 per year all the way up to $2,000 per year—and could be in effect for three years—leaving many Texans unable to pay, therefore, unable to drive.
After appearing in court, those convicted received a letter in the mail notifying them of their annual surcharge amount. The individual then had 105 days to pay the fee—or they would find their driver’s license suspended. Since most people need their driver’s license to get to and from work and make a living, a minor traffic offense could result in the loss of a job and an adverse decline in their overall financial situation.
Some Initial Fines to Increase - While HB 2048 has finally eliminated 16 years of the Texas Driver Responsibility Program, initial fines for certain offenses will increase. This means that those charged with a first DWI are likely to pay a larger financial penalty upfront but will not be required to pay three years of annual surcharges, ranging from $1,000 to $2,000 each year. The initial fine may be as high as $3,000 for a first-time DWI, up from $1,000. For many Texas drivers, those surcharges grew to thousands of dollars on traffic tickets which were several years old, leaving many without a driver’s license, for up to a decade.
There have been years of failed attempts to eliminate the DRP, with lawmakers from both chambers and both parties criticizing the program for adding extra fees on top of the already-high cost of traffic tickets. Obstacles included the fact that about half of the surcharges were used to fund the Texas trauma center care system. Senior staff attorney with the Texas Fair Defense Project, Emily Gerrick, noted, “It’s hard to overstate the harm of the program.” Gerrick went on to say that the Driver Responsibility Program created a “horrible cycle” for those drivers who lost their license strictly because they were unable to afford the annual surcharge fees. HB 2048 took effect over two weeks ago, on Sunday, September 1, 2019.
What Happens Now? Texas drivers whose driver’s licenses have been expired for under two years may be eligible to replace their licenses online. If more than two years have passed, drivers may be required to re-apply, passing driving tests, vision tests, and written tests prior to obtaining a new driver’s license. Unpaid surcharges will be waived, and no future fees assessed; however, drivers would remain responsible for other suspensions, fines, and fees on their driving records. Surcharge payments made prior to the September 1st repeal will not be refunded.
An Experienced Houston Traffic Ticket Lawyer Can Help - If you are unsure whether the repeal of the Driver Responsibility Program will allow you to get your driver’s license back, an experienced Houston traffic ticket lawyer can help. We can look at your driving history, helping you determine the best way to regain your driving privileges. If you have other issues standing in your way, we can help you deal with those as well. If you are struggling without a driver’s license, or have just been charged with a traffic offense, contact a knowledgeable Houston traffic ticket attorney today.