The result: more than 10% of Texas drivers now have outstanding warrants, and the number of drivers without licenses has climbed continuously since the law's passage. The Houston Chronicle had a story yesterday ("Texas drivers aren't paying violation surcharges," Sept. 3) which revealed that unpaid surcharges from the program more than double the amount of revenue generated:
• Revenue billed: $887.8 millionHow's that for government efficiency? The vast majority of offenders assessed the surcharge (>1.6 million) committed the offense of driving without insurance, usually because they could not afford it. So how does charging them $250 extra for the next three years, on top of the cost of the ticket, make it possible to afford insurance in the future?
• Revenue collected: $288.5 million
• Unpaid surcharges: $599.3 million
To me, that's the obvious reason for failure of the program: We're punishing what's often a crime of poverty - failure to purchase car insurance - with substantial fines that make purchasing insurance in the future less likely. How much are we talking about per driver? Including the surcharges, reported the Chron, "Driving without insurance could cost $1,303 over three years. A DWI conviction with surcharges could cost up to $6,603."
So let's say you're a newly hired Texas prison guard with a starting salary of $22,000 per year, or a little over $1,800 per month - how in the world could you afford this extra hit on top of the cost of the ticket?
What a terrible public policy: The Driver Responsibility surcharge increases the number of uninsured drivers, unlicensed drivers, and the number of Texans with arrest warrants. House Law Enforcement Chairman Joe Driver sees these outcomes as evidence the law should be "tweaked," but if you ask me the results show why the program should be scrapped.
The only benefit to the state from the fee is to generate revenue from a source that politicians can say didn't come from taxes (the money divides equally between hospital trauma care and paying for the Trans-Texas Corridor). But a 30% collection rate makes the program look like a joke - the public perception created by hundreds of thousands of people flouting the law discredits the government more than the extra money bolsters it.
The Chron piece promoted Tamara Shippy's online petition against the surcharge, quoting the college junior from Friendswood declaring, "It's unreasonable ... It's unfair. It's just mind-boggling. It seems too cruel to actually exist."
Shippy has spoken out boldly against the Driver Responsibility program in recent weeks and has already signed up nearly 400 people who oppose the surcharge. No organization in the state that I know of has mobilized to oppose the law, so I'm glad to see her step up to take leadership. Grits encourages readers to sign her petition, if you haven't already, forward the link to your friends, and also contact your state representative and senator to tell them the surcharge should be repealed.