Texas DPS Driver Responsibility Program and Relief Programs
In response to a budget shortfall in 2003, the Texas Legislature created the Driver Responsibility Program, found in Chapter 708 of the Texas Transportation Code, to raise general revenue and to fund trauma centers. The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) enforces the DRP, which assesses surcharges to individuals that violated certain traffic offenses on or after September 1, 2003. The program requires drivers to pay annual surcharges in addition to fines and court costs associated with a traffic offense or the DPS will suspend their license. The surcharges do not replace a suspension, revocation, denial, disqualification or cancellation resulting from the same conviction.
The surcharge, an administrative fee, is calculated based on the number of points or convictions on a driver’s record. Points are applied for moving traffic violation convictions and are assigned as follows: 1) two points for a Texas or out-of-state traffic conviction and 2) three points for a Texas or out-of-state traffic conviction that resulted in a wreck. Points remain on an individual’s driving record for three years, and the individual are assessed a surcharge every year they maintain six or more points on their record. The driver is required to pay $100 for the first six points and $25 for each additional point after six. Individuals who take defensive driving do not have points added to their record.
For several specific convictions, outlined below, the driver will be required to pay an annual surcharge every year for three years from the date of conviction. Points are not added to the driver’s record for these convictions because the surcharge is automatic upon conviction.
- Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) 1st – $1,000.00
- Subsequent DWI – $1,500.00
- DWI with Blood Alcohol Concentration of 0.16 or higher – $2,000.00
- No Insurance – $250.00
- The surcharge is $125.00 if the driver has not also committed the offense of DWLI or Operation of Motor Vehicle in Violation of Suspension and establishes financial responsibility (proof of insurance) no later than 60 days after the date of the offense.
- Driving While License Invalid (DWLI) – $250.00
- Operation of Motor Vehicle in Violation of Suspension – $250.00
- No Driver’s License – $100.00
- The surcharge is $50.00 if the driver obtains a driver’s license no later than 60 days after the date of the offense.
The DPS reviews driving records annually and will assess a surcharge if a person’s driving record continues to reflect six or more points or the surcharge is based on a conviction and is still within three years. The surcharge amount based on points may vary year to year based on if offenses, and therefore points, are added or removed from the driving record.
The surcharge amount must be paid within 105 days or the driver’s license will be suspended, and remain suspended, until an installment plan is agreed on or the surcharges and related cost are paid in full. An installment plan is not allowed to require a driver to pay surcharges totaling $500 or more in less than 36 months, more than $250 but less than $499 in less than 24 months, or $249 or less in less than 12 months.
Many drivers find themselves drowning under DPS surcharges and wonder if they can ever get out. There seems to be a cycle of spiraling debt that occurs as a result of the Driver Responsibility Program, specifically for poor Texans. It begins when a driver accrues surcharges and eventually loses his or her license because they are unable to pay the DPS. The driver then faces more surcharges and fines when they are caught driving without a license. This cycle can leave a driver with thousands of dollars of unpaid surcharges and a tough battle to regaining their license. Mistakenly, some believe that if their driver’s license is suspended, there becomes no need to take care of traffic tickets which have transitioned into active warrants. Before a person has a chance to assess the gravity of their driver’s license pit, they discover that they are in severe debt to DPS and the local municipal courts.
In order to pay driver’s license surcharges and regain eligibility to drive, you must not have any active traffic warrants, and at least be in repayment on any previously unpaid citations. Once you are in good standing financially on past violations, you can begin to assess the amount due to DPS to reinstate your license.
If you desire to regain your driving privilege, but cannot afford to pay your surcharges, there may be help available.
There are currently two programs designed to get Texans driving again. The first is referred to as the Indigence Program. Individuals who are living at or below 125% of the federal poverty level are eligible to apply. For approved applicants, the surcharge suspension and fees for those individuals who are making payments will be waived. However, individuals who have an enforcement action other than a surcharge suspension are still not eligible to drive. Participants in the program will still owe the full amount of all other applicable service and reinstatement fees.
|Number of Persons in Family||125% of Poverty Line (2016)|
|For each additional member||Add $5,200.00|
The second surcharge assistance program is referred to as the Incentive Program. Individuals who are living above 125% but are below 300% of the federal poverty level are eligible to apply. For approved applicants, the surcharge fees will be reduced by 50% of the total amount assessed plus related fees, and the surcharge suspension will be lifted for individuals who are making payments. However, individuals who have an enforcement action other than a surcharge suspension are still not eligible to drive. Participants in the program will still owe the full amount of other applicable fees, including reinstatement and service fees.
|Number of Persons in Family||300% of Poverty Line (2016)|
|For each additional member||Add $12,480|
Poverty Guidelines provided by: Federal Register, January 25, 2016 www.federalregister.gov
Once approved for the Incentive Program, an individual must pay the reduced balance in full within six months and all surcharge suspensions will be lifted during this period. However, be aware that if the balance is not paid in full by the due date, your license will be suspended again until the balance is completely paid.
If new surcharges are applied within 90 day of the approval for the program, those charges will also be reduced and a letter will be mailed to you with the new balance. If a new surcharge is applied 91 days or more after the date of program approval, a new application for that surcharge is required.
Apply for Surcharge Relief Programs
Begin by checking your license status at www.texas.go/driver and select Driver License Reinstatement and Status. To apply for the Incentive or Indigency Program, an individual must submit supporting documentation and a complete, signed, and notarized application. Be prepared that the supporting documentation may include, but is not limited to, SSI benefits, VA benefits, unemployment benefits, recent paycheck stubs, bank statements, and recent tax returns.
Visit www.txsurchargeonline.com to apply online and download an application, or call 800-688-6882 to pay by phone. Be aware that providing false information on your application may have criminal penalties. You must continue to pay the minimum monthly payment on your balance until the application review is complete or your license will be suspended. You can check the online status of your application 10-14 days after the completed application is submitted. If you applied by mail, written notices will be received up to 60 days after the submission of the application.
A notice will be mailed to each applicant who qualifies for the waived surcharges through the Indigency Program. If denied indigency, a letter of denial will be mailed to the address on the most recent surcharge account. If approved for the Incentive Program, a letter of approval and notice of the due date with the reduced balance will be mailed. A denial letter will be mailed to the address on the most recent surcharge account if the application is not approved.
Criticism of Program
Texas surcharges have been under fire regularly since the state started the “Driver’s Responsibility Program.” Earlier this year Texas legislators were criticizing the program. This is nothing new. In 2014, the Texas Tribune ran an interesting story about the surcharge program being a trap. Several attempts have been made to abolish the “responsibility” program. It is our opinion that the program is one of the most oppressive mechanisms used by our government against the poor and lower-middle class. The cycle of fines, fees, and surcharges makes it practically impossible to dig out the financial hole.