Tuesday, August 10, 2010

DPS Director: No public safety benefit from Driver Responsibility Surcharge

At the House Public Safety Committee hearing today, state Rep. Stephen Frost asked Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw whether there is any evidence that Texas' Driver Responsibility Program (DRP) improves public safety or has increased the number of drivers with insurance. McCraw's answer: "No sir, not at all." No hesitation. No equivocation. From his perspective, this is merely a revenue generator. It was a rather startling moment.

In response to Frost's queries, I put in a card at the last minute and clarified for the members that all of the 1.2 million drivers who lost their licenses because of the DRP were by definition uninsured because they couldn't purchase insurance without a valid license. I also relayed some information that was included in written testimony (which I helped prepare) on behalf of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition regarding the societal costs in safety and treasure of creating that many additional uninsured drivers:
The 1.2 million Texas drivers who have lost their licenses over surcharges cannot buy insurance until their fees are paid, but large numbers (if not virtually all) of them continue to drive.

Particularly problematic, DWI defendants who lose their license and insurance may also continue to drive, and if they harm someone the DRP makes it less likely they will have insurance to cover the damages. Since drunk drivers have the highest surcharges, they are also most likely to fail to pay and thus end up unlicensed and uninsured. Despite claims to the contrary at the time it was passed, the surcharge has resulted in more uninsured drunks on Texas roads, rather than reducing their number.

In 2007, there were 6,024,000 crashes5 in the United States and 205,741,845 licensed drivers, giving us an overall accident rate of 2.93%. If we assume those 1.2 million surcharge debtors who lost their licenses (and therefore became ineligible to purchase insurance) continued to drive, and that they crash at the same rate as other drivers, then by reducing the number of insured drivers, drivers who lost their license through the DRP are involved in approximately 35,160 accidents per year. If DRP drivers were the responsible party in half of those accidents (a conservative estimate, as drivers with bad driving histories could be more likely to be at fault), then the DRP would be responsible for an additional 17,580 accidents per year in which the party at fault is not insured.

How much do those crashes cost Texans in uncompensated damages? It is possible to estimate. In 2000, a federal study analyzed costs from auto accidents, including medical costs, property damage, etc., attributing $230.6 billion in costs to 16.4 million auto accidents nationwide, at an average cost of $14,061 per accident. Adjusting for inflation, that’s $16,777 in 2007 dollars. Multiplying that figure by the number of estimated crashes caused involving surcharge owing drivers, we get an estimated $294,939,660 in costs from crashes in Texas caused by uninsured drivers.

Add in lost premium income to insurers, not to mention lost Department of Public Safety (DPS) fees from the more than 200,000 fewer driver license renewals each year (roughly $4.8 million annually), and nearly every facet of the Driver Responsibility Program is bleeding red ink – for the state and for average Texans – because of an array of unintended but now well-understood consequences from the program’s ill-conceived design. (Footnotes in original.)
Trauma hospital reps were out in force at the hearing, but only one of them unreservedly supported the DRP as is; most others said they recognized the program's funding source had problems that needed addressing, but were there to emphasize how important the additional funding had been to expanding the number of Texas trauma centers. I spoke to a couple of folk from Brackenridge and Seton Hospitals in Austin outside the hearing room who told me they didn't intend to oppose the current DPS rulemaking, which was encouraging.

I don't begrudge trauma hospitals their funding, but a revenue source should be found that doesn't create so many counterproductive, unintended consequences.

UPDATE: See coverage from the Texas Tribune.


Anonymous said...

A book by Leo Rangell, M.D., a psychiatrist who explores what he calls "the compromise of integrity" in his careful, articulate analysis of the inner workings in the head and psyche of Richard M. Nixon and several of his closest confidants. It's called, appropriately, The Mind of Watergate. Within the book is the transcript of a verbal investigation between Senator Howard Baker and young Herbert L. Porter. Here is just a small portion of it.

Baker: "Did you ever have any qualms about what you were doing? . . . Did you ever think of saying, 'I do not think this is quite right.' . . . Did you ever think of that?"
Porter: "Yes, I did."
Baker: "What did you do about it?"
Porter: "I did not do anything."
Baker: "Why didn't you?"
Porter: "In all honesty, probably because of the fear of the group pressure that would ensue, of not being a team player."

It's terribly hard to stand pat and buck the tide . . . alone.

Thanks Colonel for bucking the lege.

Retired LE

Anonymous said...

If they're not actually paying the surcharge, can it really be considered a revenue source?


Gritsforbreakfast said...

FWIW, Rage, it still generates a lot of money - around $3 million per week - even though 60+% goes unpaid.

Prison Doc said...

I'm glad that so many have acknowledged the failure of the DRS. Now, if my family member could just get a refund of the surcharge he so faithfully paid....

Don said...

I remember when this thing was passed, many people predicted to the lege, almost to the item, each of these things that have come to pass. Actually, I think you were one of those soothsayers, Scott.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Yes, Don, I've been hating on the DRP since long before it was cool! ;)

Prison Doc, my goddaughter paid the thing in full, too, and declared it the hardest thing she'd ever done. It was a ridiculous strain and after her kid was born there's no way she could have accomplished it.

Texas Maverick said...

Texans hate the idea of state income tax yet put these "hidden" taxes in place. They are promoted to pay for much needed services that other states pay for with an income tax. The revenue split with the general revenue fund is hidden in the "fine" print. Texas has a state income tax. It's just hard to find all the pieces and it's not applied equally to all wage earners.

Prison Doc said...

Maverick, the problem with a state income tax now is that, politicians being politicians, the "old" taxes and fees probably wouldn't go away, we'd just have another tax.

Maybe that is just my right-of-center way of looking at things.

txkimberk said...

I haven't owned a car in 6 years. Since they allowed you another payment plan chance again I am paying $150 a month for $7800 worth of charges due to 2 DWI's. I don't mind paying something...but that's ridiculous and goes against our 8th amendment right not to have excessive fines. I can't work, live or go where I want. The bus system is horrible and I've had to rearrange my entire life. My state needs to care about its people again.

Anonymous said...

Txkimberk, arguably they're caring about the rest of us by keeping you off the road. I think cases like yours actually give a little credence to the DRP.

Your next one is a felony, by the way. So when you get paid up, stay off the sauce.


Gritsforbreakfast said...

The problem, Rage, is they're keeping her "off the road" on the honor system. A whole lot of folks just continue to drive.

Texas Maverick said...

Prison Doc, I agree with you, I don't like the idea of a state inc.tax. I just dislike using the guise of public safety, etc. when it really is a tax. Yes, the fees & penalties would not go away. Grits has been our white knight in shinning armor but the black knights have a black king who is very good at pretending he wears white.

Anonymous said...

This law makes criminals out of good people that made a dumb, stupid mistake. The chronic drinkers that drive, could give a rats-a__ difference what the law is or says. They will drive no matter what, and will continue to drink and drive.

But, the average law abiding citizen that has made a mistake pays and continues to pay. DWI is now on the record from now on, no matter how many decades have passed.

A Driver's License, contrary to the idiots in Washington and Austin are a necessity to surviving in todays' times. I travel over 20,000 miles a year going to courthouses and hearings. Without a Driver's License I would not be able to fulfill my obligations to my clients, nor would I be able to continue running a law office.

I have seen 100's of men and women that drive everyday with a suspended license for whatever reason, and have seen this happening for over 26 years.

Again, Texas is making criminals out of decent people that made a mistake. The outrageous amount of the sur-charge is beyond common sense. A decent man, or woman that has a family to support and feed, will take care of their family first and worry about the consequences later.

I have seen the same scenario play out for people that just do not carry insurance. Except, most of these have never carried insurance regularly and never will.

There are a tremendous number of illegal aliens -LAW BREAKERS FROM THE BEGINNING - that only get insurance long enough to get a license, renew the tags or inspection sticker. How many of these law breakers are in the number of people not complying with the ridiculous law?

There is enough, in my opinion, DPS troopers running around, and this ridiculous tax is supposed to help fund more. I live and work in the 2d or 3d smallest county in Texas and there are 4 troopers here.


Anonymous said...

It's simply too much money for most people to pay. It's also a farcically obvious revenue generation ploy, preying on folks who through their own legal mistakes have less recourse to stop this kind of state sponsored predation. Once again, when even Darth Bradley speaks against something, you just KNOW it's a bad law.

Anonymous said...

I found this article because I was google searching to see if paying my fine would be worth while. I got a DWI, yes I did it. Does that make me a monster? Hardly, how many of you have gotten away with it, and how many times have you gotten away with it? My license was suspended because I was laid off a year ago and couldn't afford to pay the surcharge and rent at the same time. I have been driving the entire time, found another job a few months later, but quite frankly I'm not convinced I should bother paying down the remaining surcharge fees. I feel like it's a calculated risk, this thing is going to get over turned so why pay the rest of the balance (about 2000) only to watch the law get struck down and my money never be refunded.

One other thing of note is that I do still have insurance and a copy of my invalid license, so the little day to day inconveniences do not effect me. I'm only risking an additional fine. Really it's just a roll of the dice. Normal people like me with no other criminal record are being forced to make decisions like this. 2000 may not be a lot to some of you but to me it's a big deal. I don't want to just throw that kind of money away.

cmp said...

I got 2 different tickets for window tint (not a moving violation) from 2 different counties while I was on a road trip in December 2006. I got a surcharge notice in December 2009. I requested a hearing but was not notified of my court date until late May 2010 that my hearing date would be late June 2010. Meanwhile, I had to pay the surcharge and fees (over $100) to avoid my license being suspended. I go to the hearing, the Judge agreed with me and dismissed the cases. Now I can't get through to anyone to get my refund!!!! I call 512-424-2600, and it's like calling in to a radio station to win front row tickets to a sold out show. I call all day, any time and all I get is a recording saying that due to heavy call volume call back or go to the website. If I do somehow get through, I hold for over 30 minutes and get disconnected. The website has no information (unless I am just blind) on how to get my refund. I have wasted time off from work & time on the phone which is worth more than the $100 that I was forced to pay the because my arms were tied behind my back. It's all about principal now. I just wonder if they would ever find the time (even if it is 3 years later)to go through and figure out who is due a refund like they took the time 3 years later to figure out ways to scam drivers out of their money for non-moving violations that happened over 3 years ago? The whole thing is total bullshit. Moving Violation or not - if we paid our fines, paid to renew our driver's license, pay for our insurance, etc. why should we owe the state anything?!? HIGHWAY ROBBERY.