In 2003, the Texas Legislature enacted a new system of drivers’ license surcharges called the Driver Responsibility Program (DRP). The stated purpose of the program was to enhance public safety.1 Given the $10 billion budget shortfall that year, however, lawmakers also saw the program as an innovative way to fund Texas trauma centers and to generate much needed revenue for the state.
The DRP has failed on nearly every front. It has generated less than half of the revenue anticipated, largely due to an extremely low collection rate. As of the end of fiscal year 2012, less than 40% of the surcharges assessed since the program’s inception had been collected, despite changes made to the program during the 2009 and 2011 state legislative sessions to induce more Texans to pay overdue surcharges.
“I think it’s past ime to either revise or repeal the program.” – Former State Rep. Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock), lead author of the bill that created the DRP in 2003
Of even greater concern is the DRP’s adverse impact on public safety. Unable or unwilling to pay the surcharges (on top of criminal penalties and court fines), nearly 1.3 million drivers now have invalid licenses,2 which could jeopardize their liability insurance policies. As such, the program has likely increased the number of uninsured motorists on Texas roads – and the cost of accidents with drivers lacking liability insurance. Furthermore, while overall traffic fatalities in Texas have decreased somewhat in recent years, data indicate that the program has failed to change driver behavior as it relates to a significant traﬃc-related oﬀense: drunk driving. Since the DRP’s inception in 2003, the percentage of traffic fatalities involving alcohol increased from 27% to 34%.3
Based on the DRP’s record, if lawmakers fail to repeal or substantially revise the program, the Legislature may want to commemorate the program’s first decade of operation in 2013 by renaming it the “Driver Irresponsibility Program.”
In light of the economic blow that the DRP deals to families, as well as the deleterious eﬀect the program is having on Texas’ court system and communities, it is clear that the Driver Responsibility Program is fundamentally flawed. Those flaws, combined with increasing calls by Texans caught in spiraling surcharge debt, have led to a growing, bipartisan coalition of lawmakers calling for the program’s repeal.4 Even the original author of the bill creating the program has called for the DRP to be revised or repealed.
The DRP has been successful on one front, however. Half of revenue generated by the DRP is directed to a General Revenue “dedicated” account that provides tens of millions of dollars per year for Texas hospitals designated as “trauma centers;” these centers absorb hundreds of millions of dollars in uncompensated healthcare costs every year. While DRP revenue covers less than one-third of those uncompensated care costs, the amount is not insignificant. Unfortunately, budget writers have allowed the dedicated “Trauma Facility & Emergency Medical Services Account” to accumulate a balance of over $370 million in unappropriated funds to help balance the biennial budget – money that could be used to defray an even larger portion of the hospitals’ costs.
For the reasons enumerated in this report, we believe lawmakers should abolish the DRP or fundamentally reform it and create an alternative funding mechanism for Texas trauma centers. Despite the importance of the Texas trauma system and its need for a stable revenue stream to pay for uncompensated care, the failed Driver Responsibility Program is not the answer.
This report will analyze the many failures of Texas’ Driver Responsibility Program and make recommendaions to the Legislature for its revision or repeal, including alternaive sources of funding for the Texas trauma system.