It’s tough to get your life back on track after a DWI or another serious traffic offense. The unpopular Texas Driver Responsibility Program made it much harder for drivers.
Fortunately for defendants who are picking up the pieces after a drunk driving conviction, the program will be scrapped from September 1st.
According to the Dallas Observer, the end of the Driver Responsibility Program will mean about 1.5 million Texans can regain their driver’s licenses.
For years the state-administered program has slapped surcharges on drivers caught on the road without a license or driving under the influence of alcohol. The surcharges were added on top of the standard fines and penalties for the offenses. They ranged from $250 a year for three years for driving with an invalid license to a massive $2,000 every year for three years for a DWI if the driver had a blood-alcohol level of 0.16 — twice the legal limit.
The program did not just ensnare drunk drivers. Drivers who picked up too many points on their licenses for moving violations or moving violations leading to a wreck were also subject to surcharges.
The Texas Driver Responsibility Program caused massive problems for many motorists. A DWI costs the typical driver thousands of dollars before the addition of more bills. Often drivers lost their licenses because they could not pay the charges. They would then not be able to drive to their jobs and lose more income, leaving them in a vicious cycle.
The program has been scrapped after many years of efforts to eliminate it. A measure signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott in June finally ended the 16-year-old program. The Texas Tribune reported the program prevented over 1 million people from keeping or renewing their driver’s licenses. In the end, politicians from both chambers and both parties attacked the program for giving additional annual fees — ranging from $100 to $2,000 depending on the crime – to drivers, on top of their original traffic ticket.
Terri Burke, the executive director for the ACLU of Texas said the program penalized poorer Texans.
“The Driver Responsibility Program has forced thousands of Texans to pay for their liberty, which is no justice at all. Suspending someone’s license only further removes them from the workforce, leaving them without money to pay additional fees,” she said. “The ACLU of Texas has worked for years to end this program. This is a major step in our quest to create a criminal justice system for Texas that is not only smarter but more just, particularly for those most affected by systemic hardship.”
The scrapping of the Driver Responsibility Program leaves some Texans able to get their licenses back. Specifically:
- Drivers whose fees and suspensions resulted solely from the Driver Responsibility Program will either be eligible immediately for drivers’ license reactivation (about 635,000 people) or be eligible to drive again after paying a reinstatement fee of about $100 (about 350,000 residents).
- Drivers in Texas whose licenses were suspended for other reasons outside of the Driver Responsibility Program are eligible to have suspensions lifted after resolving other issues that led to the loss of a license. Almost 400,000 people fall into this category.
Texas may have dodged a legal bullet by scrapping the Driver Responsibility Program. Equal Justice Under Law, a civil rights advocacy group, recently sued the state to end the program, claiming it violated the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection clause.