Important Surcharge Changes Affecting Texas Drivers
The almost sixteen year Texas Surcharge Program is slated to come to an end in early fall of 2019. The program’s existence has long been debated by state lawmakers and is estimated to have resulted in millions of suspended driver’s licenses. In June 2019, the governor of Texas signed a bill terminating the Texas Surcharge Program effective September 1, 2019. The legal move will likely erase remaining surcharges and make thousands eligible to have their licenses reinstated. However, until September 1st, the Texas Surcharge Program is still in effect.
What exactly is the Texas Surcharge Program and how do you know if you are currently enrolled in it? What will happen to any surcharges currently on your driver’s record when the law kicks in this fall? By educating yourself on the basic building blocks of the program, you should have a clearer understanding of how this change will specifically affect you.
What is the Texas Surcharge Program?
The Texas Surcharge Program, also sometimes referred to as the Driver Responsibility Program, enables the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) to assess surcharges based on traffic offenses that occurred beginning September 1, 2003.
Surcharges can be assessed based on convictions and a standard point system. Conviction based surcharges can include offenses such as DWIs, no driver license, or no insurance. Point based surcharges typically pertain to traffic convictions.
The DPS reviews surcharge cases yearly and reserves the right to assess a surcharge if a person’s driving record has six or more points. Because surcharges are typically an additional fee that does not replace consequences such as revocation and suspension, any underlying conviction for that same surcharge that is still on a person’s driving record within three years may be assessed for further surcharges.
What does the end of the Texas Surcharge Program mean?
While some things may change, notably the assessing of surcharges, many others will likely stay the same. People should take care to note that the end of surcharges does not mean that those cited for a traffic offense get a free pass. While a surcharge may not be issued, there could still be some serious consequences for those actions.
Individuals with traffic offense convictions occurring after the Texas Surcharge Program ends may not have to pay a surcharge but can still be subject to other undesirable consequences such as:
- High Liability Insurance Premiums
- Required SR22 Liability Insurance
- CDL Disqualification
- License Suspension
- Job Loss
- Permanent Final Convictions on Abstract Driving Record
As the program is discontinued, DPS should begin reinstating driving privileges for people who had their driver’s licenses suspended as a result of delinquent surcharges. It is worth noting that additional reasons for a suspension could still affect the ability for a license to be reinstated.
Under the absence of the Driver’s Responsibility Program, those with DWI convictions may not face a surcharge, but could face higher minimum fines ranging from several thousand dollars and going up from there. Multiple convictions within three years of the first can result in even higher fines. DWI convictions with a documented blood or breath alcohol level at or over 0.15 may result in fines of close to six thousand dollars or more.
Bottom line, drivers should be cognizant of the fact that the program does not end until September 1st and until that time the law will be upheld. This means that if you are currently driving with a suspended license and choose to immediately stop paying your surcharges while the program is still in effect, you could be risking a misdemeanor penalty that results in jail time.
How a Ticket Attorney Can Help
Drivers who find themselves already affected by the Texas Surcharge Program before it expires should consider seeking the help of a qualified and experienced attorney. The benefits of enlisting the help of a lawyer are not limited to but can include:
- Help navigating the current Texas Surcharge Program. It is best to arrange a consultation with a trusted attorney to discuss your specific situation and how you will be affected until the date the program ends.
- Assistance with the next steps after the Texas Surcharge Program has expired. Ask an attorney what to do if you still have pending surcharges when the program ends. Be sure to verify if any remaining surcharges still need to be paid.
- Confidence in legal advice. While Texans may be able to read about the basics of the Texas Surcharge Program and how things will change come September 2019, working with a lawyer who has a clear understanding of the law can give individuals more confidence in their next step.
Considerations for Finding a Ticket Attorney
Whether it is a simple speeding ticket or something as serious as a DWI, those who find themselves on the wrong side of the law often choose to have a lawyer represent them. There are several important considerations to keep in mind when looking for the right lawyer.
- Select an attorney that has years of experience and a proven track record with cases similar to your own.
- Choose an attorney that is part of a law firm. These lawyers are part of a larger group that can offer helpful insight and assistance if the lawyer requires it.
- Narrow the field of possible candidates by choosing to meet with those who offer a free first-time consultation.
- Do not sign on the dotted line until you clearly understand the wording in the contract. Beware of any fees that are only mentioned in general terms. The terms of a contract should be as specific as possible to prevent any miscommunication.
By partnering with a reputable attorney, a driver should be able to have confidence in their understanding of the Texas Surcharge Program, its dismantling, and specifically what it means for them.