|By Marty Schladen, El Paso Times, Texas|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
"I think we can collect more money, be tough on crime, but also be more realistic," Pickett said.
The Driver Responsibility Program was started in 2003 as a way to impose civil fines on drivers who accumulate six or more points for moving violations, or who are convicted of drunken driving, driving without a license or driving while that license is invalid. Drivers also face surcharges if they don't have proof of insurance when they're pulled over -- even if they produce it later.
The charges range from
Many critics say the program just isn't working.
Since its inception, the Driver Responsibility Program collected only
"Literally, it gets into the tens of thousands of dollars for some people, and they just can't handle that," Pickett said.
Some opponents of the program argue that it amounts to unconstitutional double jeopardy because it imposes surcharges on people after they've already paid court-imposed fines. Others say the program has increased the number of uninsured drivers on Texas roads.
Some judges are among the most vociferous opponents of the program. They say it's clogged their courts with proceedings resulting from unpaid surcharges.
But supporters are reluctant to scrap the program -- in part because it helps fund trauma care in
Pickett is trying to tread a middle ground. For example, instead of charging drivers <money>$750 for not having insurance, he wants to waive at least part of that charge if they get insurance.
"If I were driving the streets, I'd rather know the person next to me is insured," Pickett said.
He also is considering some technical adjustments to improve compliance.
Under current rules, violators face surcharges stretched out over three years. Pickett wants to allow them to pay the full amount up front, if they choose to.
He also wants to consolidate court and Driver Responsibility Program communications in the same piece of mail to avoid confusion. Many drivers receive a notice of surcharges and throw it away, thinking they've already paid their fines, Pickett said.
For an explanation of the charges, go to www.txdps.state.tx.us/DriverLicense/drp.htm.
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