Driver Responsibility Program Failure #3: Financial Hardship for Texans
While annual surcharges may be a mere nuisance for well-heeled Texans, they can be a devastating blow to low-income drivers and families. The economic impact of license surcharge programs has been studied in detail in states with laws similar to Texas, and they have been found to severely undermine low-income drivers’ financial security.
A 2006 survey from the New Jersey Motor Vehicles Affordability and Fairness Task Force examined the surcharge’s impact on drivers with licenses suspended due to their own Driver Responsibility Program, which levies the same license surcharges as the Texas DRP. According to that survey, among persons with suspended licenses whose annual income was under $30,000:
- 64% were unable to maintain their employment following a license suspension;
- 51% of persons who lost their job following a license suspension were unable to find new employment;
- 65% were unable to pay increased insurance costs; and
- 90% were unable to pay other costs as a result of surcharges and/or suspended driving privileges.
“Here’s a terrible program that used punitive fines to plug holes in the budget. Our founders never intended for debtor’s prisons to substitute for a tax system.” – Former State Senator Elliot Shapleigh (D-El Paso)
In addition, of those men and women who were able to find a new job following a license suspension-related dismissal, 88% reported a reduction in income. The report also found that surcharges impact not just the penalized drivers, but their families and the local labor force as well.[i]
Undoubtedly, of the 1.3 million Texas drivers who have lost their licenses due to defaulted DRP surcharge debt, a significant number make less than $30,000 per year.[ii] Thus, in addition to increasing the number of uninsured drivers, the Driver Responsibility Program surcharges may be a major cause of job loss and financial hardship in Texas.
[i] “Motor Vehicles Affordability and Fairness Task Force Final Report,” Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center (Rutgers University) and New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, February 2006. Online at: http://www.state.nj.us/mvc/pdf/About/AFTF_final_02.pdf.
[ii] According to data from the Texas Dept. of Public Safety, as of August 31, 2011, 83% of the surcharges levied in Texas had been assessed for three violations: FMFR, No License, and DWLI. According to the New Jersey study cited, a disproportionate share of individuals whose licenses are suspended for these three offenses make less than $28,000 per year.