Texas suffers from a “checkerboard” system of enforcing drunken-driving laws that is worsened by a state law imposing hefty surcharges on top of criminal penalties, Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire told the Houston Chronicle. Whitmire said lawmakers should consider repealing the Driver Responsibility Program, which includes a surcharge of $1,000 annually for three years for first-time driving-while-intoxicated offenders. The many motorists who do not pay face suspension of their driver’s licenses, which Whitmire and law officers said means more people on the road without licenses or insurance.
The senator is pulling together a working group to recommend a uniform way of handling drunken drivers across jurisdictions. Different counties have developed their own methods for coping with challenges. A backlog of drunken-driving cases seeking trials may reflect defendants’ desire to use every means to escape the surcharges. In Houston, District Attorney Pat Lykos allows one accused of drunken driving for the first time to plead guilty to the DWI offense and get a strict probated sentence in which he receives treatment, performs community service, and abides by other conditions, including a lock on his auto ignition that tests for alcohol use before he can drive. If he completes the program successfully, the conviction can be wiped from a motorist’s record. That also allows the offender to avoid the surcharge.