Surcharges: What are they and what can you do?

If you are struggling with surcharges, the following may be able to help:

The Texas Driver’s Responsibility Program: What You Need to Know

I. Overview

One reason your driving privileges may be suspended is because of unpaid surchages.

The Texas Legislature created the Drivers Responsibility Program in 2003. This authorized DPS to assess surcharges on Texans’ driver’s licenses for certain convictions or for a certain number of points on the license. Once this surcharge is assessed, it must be paid in order for the driver to retain his driving privileges. It was thought at the time that this program would do two things: 1) incentivize good driving and decrease traffic accidents, and 2) raise money to fund trauma centers across the state. Ninety-nine percent of the money raised goes to the Texas Trauma Center fund and the General Revenue fund. One percent goes to DPS to administer the program. The money raised through the surcharge collection has fallen short of what the Legislature anticipated and the program has drawn a high level of criticism. There have been efforts by policy groups to abolish the program, but these have failed to get traction in the Texas House.

Surcharges are assessed by DPS when a driver either has a conviction for an offense reported to DPS by a court in which the conviction was entered or when a driver is assessed six points or more on their license.

II. Types of Surcharges

A. Convictions-based

There are three offenses for which a conviction reported to DPS will cause a surcharge to be assessed. These are Driving While Intoxicated, Driving while License Invalid, and Failure to Maintain Financial Responsibility. These offenses must have taken place after September 1, 2003. If a driver is convicted of one of these offenses after September 1, 2003 but the offense took place prior to September 1, 2003 no surcharges should be assessed.

1) Driving While Intoxicated: If a driver is either found guilty at trial or pleads guilty to DWI, the court will report this to DPS and a surcharge will be assessed on the driver’s license. This surcharge is $1000 per year for three years if the DWI was a first conviction for DWI and the alcohol testing result, if any, was was below .15 (g/210L). This surcharge is also assessed for first time convictions for intoxication assault or manslaughter. The surcharge is $1500 per year for three years if it is a 2nd or more DWI or intoxication offense such as intoxication assault or manslaughter. It is $2000 a year for three years if a conviction for DWI or intoxication assault or manslaughter and the blood alochol result was .16 or greater.

2) Driving While License Invalid: If a driver is convicted of driving while license invalid/suspended/revoked the surcharge is $250 a year for three years. This applies to Class C misdemeanor convictions as well, so for example if a driver receives a ticket for DWLI and pays the fine, thereby entering a plea of no contest, a surcharge will be assessed once this is reported to DPS.

For convictions of DWLI where the driver has no license or a commercial license or where the license is expired, or where a person is convicted of driving with an endorsement violation (driving without eyeglasses where they are required by DPS, for example), the surcharge is $100 a year for three years.

3) Failure to Maintain Financial Responsibility: When a driver is convicted of failure to maintain financial responsibility, the surcharge is $250 a year for three years. This conviction may also carry a license suspension if it is not the first conviction on the driver’s record. This suspension may be rescinded if the driver provides proof to DPS that he or she had insurance at the time of the alleged offense, but even if that proof is provided, the surcharge will not be waived.

These surcharges will be applied if a Texas driver receives a conviction for one of these three things out of state.

These surcharges will always be assessed for these convictions regardless of the driver’s eligibility to drive or even his possession of a driver’s license. Even if a driver has never been licensed in any state, DPS will still assess these surcharges and the driver will have to pay them in order to ever gain possession of eligibility to drive legally and test for a driver’s license.

B. Points-based

DPS will add “points” to a person’s driving record for each moving violation of which a driver is convicted. A moving violation is a traffic violation in which driving is involved, such as failure to stop at a stop sign or speeding. Things like expired registration do not count as moving violations.

For every moving violation, in Texas or out of state that is reported to DPS two points is added. For every moving violation in which there is a crash related to the violation, three points is added.

For every six points a driver receives, DPS assesses a surcharge of $100 every year the point total is six. For every point over that, DPS adds $25 dollars in surcharge every year.

III. Administration of the Program

DPS contracts with a private entity called the Municipal Services Bureau to collect the surcharges and manage the accompanying Indigency/Incentive Programs. The entity has a website where information about a driver’s surcharge accounty can be found:

Surcharge notices are mailed to the last known address DPS had for the driver. If a driver is not receiving his or her notices, it is most likely because the address used by MSB is out of date.

MSB is also known to call drivers to collect surcharges.

Surcharges are assessed every year for three years and then broken down into monthly installments plus a $2.50 service fee per month. A driver must pay the monthly installment each month. Failure to do so will trigges a suspension of the license until the drive is current on the payments again.

There is no time-triggered forgiveness. A surcharge assessed in 2004 willn ot be forgiven at any point unless a driver applies for the Indigency or Incentive Program.

IV. Indigency and Incentive Program

A driver who meets certain income-based criteria may apply to have some or all of his surcharges waived. These programs can only be used to reduce surcharges billed on or after September 1, 2011.

A. The Indigency Program

For drivers earning 125% or less of the federal poverty level, surcharges can be reduced so that the amount owed no less than 10% of that originally owed. The total can be no more than $250. The driver is then put in forbearance for 6 months and the driving privileges, barring any other reasons for suspension or any other bar to renewal, will be restored during that period.

Drivers will be required to provide proof of income when applying for the Program. This can be pay stubs, income tax returns, or proof of receipt of income based government benefits such as Food Stamps or TANF. It is very important that the driver’s address is up to date with DPS and MSB, as any correspondence regarding the driver’s application for the Program will be sent to the last known address, including requests for further documentation of income.

B. The Incentive Program

For drivers earning between 126% and 300% of the federal poverty level, surcharges can be reduced to 50% of the amount owed. As with the Indigency Program, the amount owed will be put in forebearnce for 6 months, and barring any other reasons for suspension or denial of renewal, driving privileges will be restored during that period.

V. Surcharge Waiver Orders

The only way to get surcharges completely waived is for the judge presiding at the time of the conviction to sign an order telling DPS to waive the surcharges that would normally be assessed.

This can only be done on motion of the defendant’s attorney. In the motion, the attorney must allege and provide proof that the defendant is indigent and only makes up to 125% of the federal income level. Providing proof of receipt of benefit of governement benefits is one way to prove up the client’s indigency.

In Travis County, it is very common for judges to sign these orders if the defendant has a court appointed defense attorney, as the judges deem these clients to have already proved up indigency.

VI. Conclusion

Surcharges can be a huge burden on the driver with an average income. It is important that if you are accused of a crime that carries a surcharge, it is important you consult with an attorney who can structure the result in the case so that a surcharge can be avoided. There may be ways to get a case dismissed or a conviction on the case deferred, either of which will allow the driver to avoid any surcharge on that case. If you are a driver who has wracked up many moving violation convictions on your driving record, it may be important to seek representation in order to avoid any further convictions if you are charged with a moving violation again so that you do not hit the point limit and have a surcharge assessed.

I am happy to talk to anyone charged with a crime that carries a surcharge or is close to hitting the six point limit. I am also available to guide clients through their applications for the Indigency and Incentive Programs as part of a package to help ineligible drivers get back into eligibile status.