DPS offers amnesty to drivers with suspended licenses

Feb. 23, 2011 at 10:02 p.m.
Updated Feb. 22, 2011 at 8:23 p.m.

The Texas Department of Public Safety is offering amnesty to those drivers whose licenses have been suspended for failing to pay state-mandated surcharges.

The Driver Responsibility Amnesty program, which began Jan. 17, will last through April 17.

"Some people owe hundreds or even thousands of dollars," said Tom Vinger, assistant chief of media relations for DPS. "It is a path back to legitimacy. Hopefully, by reducing the fines drastically, it will allow more people to get their license back, get insurance and comply with the law."

The Driver Responsibility Program, which was passed by the Legislature in 2003, assesses fees for a variety of driving-related offenses including no insurance, driving without a license and DWI-related offenses, which can result in a fine of up to $1,000 per year for three years, according to a DPS press release.

DPS records showed that 713,444 people in Texas were eligible to apply for the program.

As of Feb. 22, however, only 54,035 people had applied for it, which is about 7.5 percent of those who are eligible for participation.

To be eligible for the program, people must be delinquent on one or more surcharges assessed between Sept. 30, 2004, and Dec. 31, 2008, which is the time period that accounts for the bulk of unpaid surcharges.

Also those surcharges must be in default before the amnesty period began.

Those who qualify for the program will only have to pay 10 percent of the surcharges owed, up to a maximum amount of $250.

Any previous payments people have made will be applied to the new reduced amount.

If prior payments are more than the reduced amount due, then no payment will be required, said the press release.

Applicants for the amnesty program can pay in full or make payments, but the full amount must be paid by April 17.

If payment in full is not received by that date, the reduction is voided and the suspensions are put back on the driving record.

"This is a huge improvement for public safety," said Andrea Marsh, executive director of the Texas Fair Defense Project, which along with other organizations pushed DPS to offer the program. "Texas residents have not been able to keep their driver's licenses because they face huge fees and can't afford to pay."

Following the conclusion of the amnesty program, DPS plans to offer an Indigency program, which will apply to individuals at or below 125 percent of poverty level.

This, too, will reduce the amount people with surcharges owe to 10 percent, not to exceed $250; and will rescind suspension for those who receive indigency while payments are being made.

Anyone assessed a surcharge since Sept. 30, 2004, will be eligible for the Indigency program.



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