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If you've been pulled over for a traffic violation in Texas in the last 13 years, then maybe you're aware of the state's Driver Responsibility Program. This program tacks on annual surcharges in addition to fines, court costs and other penalties. If you don't pay the annual fees, then your license is automatically suspended and you could go to jail.

These additional fines are assessed over a three-year period for offenses such as DWI, driving without a license and driving without insurance. Drivers who accumulate six or more points for moving violations are also subject to the annual penalties.

State lawmakers now say the Driver Responsibility Program is akin to a debtors' prison.

Since 2003, Texas drivers have been billed for more than $3.6 billion through the Driver Responsibility Program, but only $1.5 billion of those fees have actually been collected, and 1.3 million people have lost their driver's licenses for nonpayment.

While the program was in part designed to help fund hospital care for trauma victims, a bipartisan group of state legislators wants the program either reformed or done away with entirely. They know that the Driver Responsibility Program has caused people to lose their jobs, and lower-income Texans have found themselves in a cycle of unmanageable debt due to the annual fees.

For example:

  • $1,000 a year for DWI
  • $250 a year for driving without a valid license or insurance
  • $100 a year for driving with an expired license
  • $100 a year for accumulating six or more points for moving violations
  • Another $25 a year for each additional point

In fact, the Department of Public Safety reported that in 2015 alone 681,000 people were added to the list of people required to pay the fees, bringing the current total to more than 1.84 million individuals.

Legislators are being urged to cancel the fee program and implement other strategies for protecting the trauma care funding.

The Senate Transportation Committee is scheduled to meet again in March to consider possible solutions such as an amnesty for drivers who can't pay. If the issues aren't sufficiently resolved at that time, then the matter may come up again in the 2017 legislative session.

Drivers who are facing license suspension because of a DWI charge or other offense are encouraged to speak with a defense lawyer as soon as possible. There may be options for preserving your driving privileges and avoiding jail time.

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