DWI Offenders May Get Relief From Huge Fines

Under Texas law, drivers who have committed certain offenses, such as driving while intoxicated, driving without a valid license and driving without insurance, are required to pay enormous fines to keep their drivers’ licenses. The “Driver Responsibility Program” was envisioned as a way to toughen the penalties for drunk driving, and in turn, to try deter intoxicated people from getting behind the wheel in the first place.

The program provides that if a person is caught driving drunk (or without a license or proper insurance), he or she can incur monthly fees of up to a $1,000 a year for the first offense, and $1,500 a year for any subsequent offenses. When a driver fails to pay these fines, his or license is revoked.

State officials are hearing from law enforcement, criminal attorneys and court administrators that the reality of the “Driver Responsibility Program” is actually an increase of irresponsible drivers. The program does little to deter drunk driving, and ends up increasing the likelihood that a person of modest means will simply opt to drive without a license rather than pay the huge fine. Judges and prosecutors say that they begun avoiding convictions for DWI in order to keep the driver from having make a choice between unaffordable surcharges and losing his or her license.

In response to the widespread complaints, state officials are expected to approve changes to the law that will allow offenders to pay off their fines at discounted rates. There will be two ways to take advantage of the new programs, says Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety. First, those who pay their fines within a certain designated period of time can end up paying only 10 percent of their original fine; the same would go for those who can prove that they are indigent.

It is no doubt disappointing for those who originally conceived of the program, as the over $1 billion dollars in unpaid fines under the law would have been a boon to the Texas economy. However, given that the state has been able to collect only about 40 percent of the fines, and more people are the program just doesn’t seem to work.