Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Edna Staudt says she favors pending legislation that would abolish the Texas Driver Responsibility Program.
The program, which was instituted by the Legislature in 2003, “insinuates the goal is to make Texas citizens more responsible with their driving habits, thus making our highways safer,” she said.
However, the unintended consequence has been an increase in unlicensed drivers as a result of a surcharge the violator is required to pay to the Texas Department of Public Safety, she said.
Judge Staudt outlined an example of how the law is hurting drivers.
“You receive a ticket and are found guilty in a court of law for ‘no liability insurance’ so the court assesses a fine,” she said. “This is reported to DPS to be included on your driving record. In addition to the fine paid to the court, you are then notified by DPS you owe a $750 surcharge plus handling fees that are due payable over the next three years. The first $250 surcharge plus handling fees are due within 30 days. If the $250 surcharge is not paid, your driver’s license is immediately flagged as ‘invalid’ or ‘suspended’. In many cases people are not even aware their license is suspended. No court verifies that DPS’s drastic action against you is correct.”
Judge Staudt said if the same driver is stopped again — this time the driver has insurance, but the citation is written for “driving while license invalid” (DWLI) because the DPS fees have not been paid.
“You appear in court and if found guilty of DWLI, pay another fine. Again DPS assesses a $750 surcharge fee with the first $250 surcharge due within 30 days,” she said. “Now the situation worsens. You must go to work so you drive with an invalid license. You are stopped a third time and cited for another DWLI. This time you are arrested on scene and taken to jail because a second DWLI is a class B misdemeanor. Even after meeting the Court’s requirements of paying fines and/or serving jail time, DPS is still owed surcharges and your license is still invalid.
“No amount of money paid to DPS at this point will change the suspended status, as DPS has flagged your license for a 1-2 years suspension,” she said.
Judge Staudt said citizens have had to pay hundreds and thousands of dollars in surcharges, and are being jailed because of an inability to pay the surcharges.
“The number of unlicensed and uninsured citizens on the Texas roads has increased and constitutional rights are being violated,” she said.
Judge Staudt’s office said she has been communicating with state elected officials representing Liberty Hill and Williamson County, asking them to consider HB 104, which would abolish the surcharge.