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What is the Texas Driver’s Responsibility Surcharge for DWI Cases and Why (Hopefully) Its Days may be Numbered

This week down in Austin, some Texas legislators gave us all hope that something may be done sometime in this decade about the Texas Driver’s Responsiblity Surcharge Program. Fingers crossed.

We’ve been discussing the unfairness of the Texas Driver Responsibility Surcharges for years now; check out our prior posts for a history of this state program and various reasons it’s just not working and hasn’t been for several years:


What is the Texas Driver’s Responsibility Surcharge Program?

The Texas Driver’s Responsiblity Surcharge Program is run by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) and it’s something that must be paid under Texas law in addition to any other driver’s license reinstatement fees after a drunk driving conviction. Moreover, paying this Surcharge does NOT help the DWI convicted defendant to avoid any kind of driver’s license suspension, revocation, disqualification or other form of license cancellation.

The Texas DWI Surcharge Covers 3 Years After a DWI Conviction and Costs $1000s

Under the DWI Surcharge Program, a Texas driver who is convicted of DWI (driving while intoxicated) in combination with some additional violations (e.g., driving without a driver’s license, or one that’s invalid; driving without insurance) must pay set amounts (”surcharges”) every year for the next 3 years after the DWI conviction. These are expensive, too: for a Texas DWI conviction, the surcharge is $1,000 a year for 3 years for a 1st conviction. The surcharge gets more expensive for the defendant if they’ve already got a drunk driving arrest on the books: $1,500/yr for 3 years for the 2nd DWI, for instance. And if their BAC level was 0.16 or higher, then the Surcharge is $2,000/yr for 3 years.

Here’s the problem: lots of people haven’t been paying these surcharges — and they haven’t been paying them for years. Texas Counties have HUGE receivables on their books under the column “Texas Driver’s Responsibility Surcharge Revenue.” Some refuse to pay because they believe these surcharges are unfair, going for so long after they’ve already been convicted. Others just cannot afford these surcharges, they’re too much money.



What Happened This Week In Austin Regarding Texas’ Driver’s Responsiblity Surcharge Program?

A hearing was held on April 14, 2014, by the Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee of the Texas House of Representatives where lots of testimony was given from all sorts of people – including a representative of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) – that the DWI Surcharge Program isn’t working and needs to be fixed or gutted.

The Texas House website has a free online video of the entire hearing if you want to watch it.

Of note, MADD’s Bill Lewis told the legislators that the Surcharge has no impact on Driving While Intoxication charges due in no small part to the reality that most people out there have no idea that the DWI Surcharge Program exists.

Other testimony that is a big deal to DWI criminal defense lawyers is the reality that there are prosecutors (as well as some judges) who think that the current Driver Responsibility Surcharge is just plain unfair and prosecutors will deal with DWI defense lawyers to having a DWI defendant plead to lesser charges to get around the Surcharge.

Will the Texas Driver’s Responsibility Surcharge Program Be Abolished?

It’s too soon to tell if the Texas Legislature will try and reform this surcharge system or just scrap the whole thing.  Things look promising.  Many are hopeful that DWI defendants in the future may not have to deal with this onerous burden in both time and money after they’ve already got to deal with the realities of a DWI conviction on their record.

Want To Help?

The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition publishes a website dedicated to getting rid of the Texas DWI Surcharge Program and you can check it out online here.  You can donate money, and there’s also a page where you can share your own personal story about how the DWI Surcharge program has impacted you (or a loved one).


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