Time for Texas Legislature to End Double Jeopardy for Texas Drivers
Contrary to the original intent, the Driver Responsibility Program (DRP) in Texas is actually making Texas roads less safe.
Created in 2003, DRP was intended to discourage risky driving behaviors, including speeding, driving without insurance, and drunk driving. Instead, it has actually put more drivers on the road without a license or insurance.
That’s because the program assesses a surcharge on drivers on top of the criminal fines or sentence. A driver with six points on his license (points are assessed upon moving violations) must pay $100 per year, and each additional year the points remain. Drunk drivers pay between $1000 and $2000 per year up to three years—again, regardless of criminal sentences or penalties. Driving with a suspended license or without insurance costs $250. Driving without a license costs $100 a year.
And this is on top of any criminal fine or penalty.
Failure to pay these surcharges results in automatic license suspension.
The increasing number of drivers who are unlicensed and uninsured is unacceptable. It’s estimated that approximately 1.2 million Texans are driving with a suspended license and without insurance because they were unable to pay the surcharges due under DRP. Many continue driving anyway, without licenses and without auto insurance. Ironically, the “Driver Responsibility Program” created 1.2 million more highly irresponsible drivers.Not only in the DRP double jeopardy on Texas drivers, but it is rife with unintended consequences:
- Judges tell us that conviction rates have decreased every year. In 2005, 99,501 DWI arrest resulted in 63,132 convictions. In 2009, 102,309 DWI arrests resulted in 44,777 convictions. This is because judges report that dismissal rates have increased every year. In order to avoid a DWI conviction and the hefty surcharges, DWI cases are prosecuted or pled down to reckless driving, obstruction of highway, or public intoxication, all to avoid the civil penalty. And that means that DWI records which allow law enforcement to know who has a serious drinking problem are not complete and that those individuals who are plead down may avoid requirements that can actually enhance public safety, such as an ignition interlock and treatment for alcoholism that would more likely have accompanied a DWI conviction.
- Paradoxically, for those defendants who do not plead down to a lesser offense, the DRP has actually increased the number of cases going to trial. According to testimony in 2010, the high expense of the surcharge incentivizes driving while intoxicated defendants to avoid plea deals and insist upon a trial. That testimony highlighted an increase in the pending caseload of 25,000 cases, which would take 16 years to dispose of if all defendants demanded a trial. More recent data confirms this trend continues: in 2012, 4.5 percent of driving while intoxicated or under the influence defendants took the case to trial, in contrast with 3 percent of all other defendants.
It’s time to repeal the Driver Responsibility Program, reduce the number of unlicensed drivers on the road, and let the criminal law deal with criminals.