Driver Responsibility Program

The Issue

The Driver Responsibility Program (DRP) was created in 2003 under Chapter 780 of the Texas Transportation Code to provide funding for uncompensated trauma care in hospitals and to encourage safer driving. DRP levies annual administrative surcharges for three years—in addition to any court-mandated fines, fees, or criminal penalties— upon those who commit certain traffic violations, based on either accumulated traffic points and/or convictions (driving on an invalid license, DWI, etc.).

Failure to pay these surcharges results in driver’s license suspension until an individual comes back into compliance. According to the Texas Senate Research Center, over 1.2 million Texans have lost their licenses for failure to pay their assessments.

Despite the good intentions of the DRP, its goals have not been realized.

First, there has been no noticeable impact on alcohol-related traffic fatalities: Among the stated goals of the DRP was to improve public safety outcomes on Texas roads. To that end, a conviction for driving while under the influence (DWI) results in the heaviest penalties levied under the DRP. However, in the 10 years after DRP was instituted, the number of motor vehicle fatalities in which a driver was impaired by alcohol increased by 3.68%. While such deaths have fallen slightly from 2003 to present day, no discernible effect of DWI-related surcharges on traffic fatalities involving alcohol is obvious in crash statistics.

DRP has consistently brought in less revenue than would be expected from assessed surcharges, with under 40% having been collected since the program’s creation. Additionally, in-coming revenue from points surcharges into the 5111 account has fallen by 11.5 percent since 2010 alone, indicating that trauma care funding is built upon an unstable foundation.

The effects of DRP surcharges and license suspensions fall disproportionately upon the working poor. In addition to often lacking ability to pay expensive (and duplicative) surcharges, any resulting suspension of their license can put them into a perverse Catch-22: risk driving on an invalid license—which is itself against the law and punishable with possible jail time and/or additional DRP surcharges— or risk not getting to work, which is necessary in order to pay their debts.

This cycle of offense and debt can prove nearly impossible for many Texans to escape.

Finally, because the current DRP fee structure funds a social good from fines levied against bad behavior, both state government and hospitals implicitly need people to engage in and be caught doing illegal or otherwise risky behavior to maintain constant levels of funding, thereby inverting their proper roles: maintaining rule of law and public safety, and promoting good health, respectively.

The DRP should be repealed. Once this is accomplished, and should the Legislature believe that funding uncompensated trauma care is a worthwhile endeavor, it should seek to do so through the most stable funding source available. Legislation introduced in previous sessions sought to do so with an increase in the state’s traffic fines and to fines for DWI offenses.

Recommendations

Eliminate the Driver Responsibility Program. Upon repeal of the DRP, and should the Legislature believe that continuing to fund uncompensated trauma care is a worthwhile endeavor, it should seek to do so through the most stable and equitably-apportioned funding source available—ideally, through general revenue. This would ensure that hospital funding remains reliably constant over time; that funding is not derived from fees arising out of bad behavior— which creates perverse incentives; and it would broaden the scope of responsibility for providing that funding to the largest pool of Texans possible.

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