Friday, June 28, 2019

Driver Responsibility surcharge abolition, by the numbers

The death of Texas' Driver Responsibility surcharge was the single, outstanding #cjreform highlight of the 86th Texas Legislature, outdistancing all other reforms in terms of impact by a country mile. Let's run through the numbers:

Nearly 1.4 million drivers currently have suspended licenses based on unpaid Driver Responsibility surcharges, or roughly half of all drivers who've ever received them. And on its website, the Department of Public Safety pledged to "reinstate all driver privileges that were previously suspended solely for having unpaid surcharges." But hold on just a second ...

While everyone will have their debt erased - the Texas Fair Defense Project estimated that the total amount of debt waived will approach $2.5 billion - a large number of people won't immediately get their licenses back.

Reported the Dallas Observer, 630,000 drivers will be immediately eligible to get their licenses back on Sept. 1st. Another 350,000 will be eligible to renew their license after paying a reinstatement fee, and 400,000 have other holds on their drivers licenses, mostly through the Omnibase program, through which the state suspends licenses for non-payment of fines and fees.

The reinstatement fees for the 350,000 people who owe them are $125 (Source), so that's just shy of $44 million dollars in fees those drivers must pay to get back on the road.

Bottom line, some portion of those folks will still have suspended licenses a year from now, plus the 400k people with licenses suspended under Omnibase also are still out of luck.

Thus, the new law stopped the generation of new surcharge debt, and waived past debts, but it only resolved license suspensions for a fraction of surcharge debtors - perhaps half of them or more.

Going forward, surcharges were abolished for points, no-insurance, and driving with an invalid license (DWLI), but retained and converted into criminal fines in DWI cases. Under the old program, DWIs only made up 12 percent of people who were assessed surcharges, so that eliminates them for 88 percent in the future. It remains to be seen how often judges waive those new DWI fines - they couldn't waive the surcharges at all.

There was an extent to which the Driver Responsiblity surcharge contributed to county-level incarceration by generating a huge pool of drivers with suspended licenses. When the surcharge program first rolled out, county jails were flooded and the Legislature in 2007 reduced first-offense DWLI penalties from a Class B to a Class C misdemeanor. But people are still arrested and jailed for second offense DWLI and higher.

In 2017, the Office of Court Administration documented 21,836 new Class B DWLI cases. We know that the overwhelming majority of people with suspended licenses lost them because of the Driver Responsibility surcharge - let's assume 75 percent, for the sake of the math. If those folks averaged just 2 days in jail each (the maximum penalty for a Class B misdemeanor is 6 months in jail and a $2,000 fine), then they collectively would have spent about 90 bed-years in jail!

So that's where we are, by the numbers. On September 1st, $2.5 billion in debts will be erased and hundreds of thousands of people will be eligible to get their licenses back.

For more background and/or details on license reinstatement, see FAQs from DPS and the Texas Fair Defense Project.


Anonymous said...

RIP Tx DRP 2003=2019

Anonymous said...

You can check your DL status and eligibility here:

Anonymous said...

Does the 1.4 million include people whose licenses expired while under suspension? It doesn't look like these people were included but they definitely should be counted as casualties of drp.

And if expired for over 2 years, they can look forward to applying for a new license, taking both tests AND paying the reinstatement fees. By definition of the word reinstatement, it didn't make sense to me that I had to pay for reinstatement and then apply and pay for a new license, too.