New Law Allows Texas Drivers Flexibility on Paying Penalty Surcharges

September 4, 2007

A new state law enables the Texas Department of Public Safety to offer more flexibility for the nearly 775,000 drivers who haven’t paid state surcharges for driving violations.

The law, which took effect Saturday, is a follow-up to 2003’s Texas Driver Responsibility Law, which added fees ranging from $100 to more than $2,000 for violations including repeat citations, drunken driving, and driving without insurance or a license.

As of mid-August, only 30 percent of the 1.1 million drivers supposed to be paying the surcharges were complying, according to the public safety department. The department had collected only $288 million of the $886 million it had billed under the program.

The new allows DPS to offer periodic amnesty programs for those who do pay and lets DPS work with motorists who miss a surcharge installment payment.

“If you have been doing what you are supposed to do, but you have a bad day and you miss the payment, we now can allow you to get back into the payment program, which will help a lot with the folks who get booted out,” DPS spokeswoman Tela Mange said. “They can stay in the program without having to pay that whole amount that they owed for the rest of the year.”

Under the 2003 law, money from the surcharges is divided evenly at 49.5 percent each for hospital trauma care and state highways. The DPS gets 1 percent to administer the program.

The charges begin at $100 a year when a motorist has reached six points, which can be reached with three speeding tickets. Driving without liability insurance carries a $250 surcharge per year. The first drunken driving conviction results in a $1,000 surcharge. The surcharges run for three years.

State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, has criticized the surcharges and said the new law won’t fix the program.

“We are working against ourselves. Courts are clogged, police are drawn into this and away from violent crime, and judges complain,” he said. “We need to use laws to alter behavior, not to re-create debtor prisons.”

Rep. Joe Driver, chairman of the House Law Enforcement Committee, said it made sense to adjust the 2003 law, but he defended the idea that bad drivers should have to pay.

“I can’t see being a whole lot easier on people who are breaking the law, driving while drunk, driving without insurance or a license,” said Driver, R-Garland.

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