Texas Tribune Explainer

Texas' Driver Responsibility Program ends next month. Here's what that means for you.


After years of failed attempts to eliminate it, the Driver Responsibility Program will end on Sept. 1.

A measure signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott in June, House Bill 2048, shutters the 16-year-old program that left more than 1 million people unable to keep or renew their driver's licenses.

Lawmakers from both chambers and parties criticized the program for adding additional annual fees — ranging from $100 to $2,000 depending on the offense — on top of the price of traffic tickets. Texans had their licenses suspended if they didn't pay or enter into a payment plan within a certain number of days. For many drivers, those surcharges grew to thousands of dollars on years-old tickets and left them without a license for, at times, more than a decade.

"It's hard to overstate the harms of the program," said Emily Gerrick, senior staff attorney with the Texas Fair Defense Project. "It created this really horrible cycle for drivers who lost their license because they couldn't afford to pay the surcharge. And then kept getting more surcharges because they didn't have their license."

Efforts to pass legislation previously hit obstacles, however, as those collected fees are used to fund the state's emergency trauma center care system. But soon, that money will come from other sources, those surcharges will be waived and more than 600,000 Texans will immediately be eligible to have their licenses reinstated.

Here's what you need to know ahead of the repeal:

Who is eligible to have their license reinstated — and how?

Of the nearly 1.5 million Texans who were unable to keep or renew their licenses under the Driver Responsibility Program, there are a few different groups drivers might fall into when attempting to get their licenses reinstated after Sept. 1:

  • Drivers whose fees and suspensions stem solely from the Driver Responsibility Program will either immediately be eligible to have their driver's licenses reinstated (about 635,000 people) or be eligible after paying a reinstatement fee of about $100 (about 350,000 people). Drivers can check which group they belong to online.
  • Texans whose licenses were suspended for additional reasons outside of the Driver Responsibility Program (about 398,000 people) will be eligible to have suspensions lifted after resolving other issues.

Drivers whose licenses were expired for under two years may be eligible to replace them online. If more time has passed, drivers will have to re-apply and pass written, vision and driving tests before obtaining a new license.

Does this mean drivers with unpaid traffic tickets can no longer lose their licenses?

In short, no.

The DRP is one of two ways drivers with unpaid tickets can lose their licenses. The other is through the state's Omni program, which also takes away Texans' licenses for not appearing in court or paying court fines. About 300,000 drivers are ineligible to renew their licenses because of that system.

In recent years lawmakers have unsuccessfully proposed reforming the Omni program.