When you are convicted of a DWI, or another serious traffic offense in Texas you face paying thousands of dollars. TxDOT claimed on a billboard that DWI offenders pay as much as $17,000 in fines, penalties, and legal fees.
However, one type of punishment is becoming increasingly controversial. Those who are convicted of certain traffic offenses are required to pay annual surcharges to the state to keep their driver’s licenses.
The Driver Responsibility Program was compared to debtor’s prison by state lawmakers earlier this year, reported the Texas Tribune.
The article noted how Texas state senators from both parties spoke out against the program that saddles drivers who have committed traffic offenses with surcharges for years.
As criminal defense attorneys who represent DWI clients, we are well aware of the hardships caused by this program that punishes offenders over and over.
The program was set up back in 2003. Although it is meant to promote Safer driving, is also seen as a way of making up a budget shortfall and is leaving some drivers in a poverty trap, according to reports. Almost 1.3 million drivers now have invalid licenses, according to the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.
Those leading the charge against the surcharges included State Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, who compared it to debtors’ prison. The comparison stuck with fellow senators who mentioned it a number of times. Huffines said:
“Obviously, it doesn’t bother a rich person, someone who has the ability to pay. But we’re creating a permanent underclass.”
In May, the Texas Smart-on-Crime Coalition also expressed its opposition to the surcharges. The coalition is made up of civil rights, business and criminal justice advocates. It is campaigning to force lawmakers to repeal the Driver Responsibility Program in 2017 next year.
During the 2015 legislative session, the Senate backed a move to water down the program. It died in the House. The surcharges were reduced under a second bill that became law.
The Texas Department of Public Safety operates the program. If you are convicted of certain traffic violations, including DWI, some speeding offenses and driving without insurance, you will be hit with surcharges every year for three years over and above any fines other fines and fees that are a result of your offense. The surcharges rise as high as $2,000 for more serious drunk driving offenses.
Texas has some tough DWI laws. If you have been charged with drunk driving, it’s important to hire an experienced Austin DWI defense lawyer as soon as possible. Call us today for a free and confidential consultation at (512) 474-4445.