September 30, 2004
It now costs more to be a bad driver in Texas

I've snarked about the many new fees and surcharges imposed by the Lege last year while they crowed about "no new taxes", but this is one new surcharge I fully support.


The hefty surcharges totaling $67 million since they went into effect a year ago are aimed at Texans who drive without a license or insurance or while drunk.

The law is expected to raise about $1 billion for trauma care over the first five years and another $1 billion for highways and general revenue funds.

A person fined for driving without a license will have to pay an extra $100 a year for three years. Driving without insurance or with a license that's been revoked will add a surcharge of $250 a year for three years.

A first driving-while-intoxicated conviction will include a surcharge of $1,000 a year for three years double that for drivers whose blood alcohol was 0.16 or more.


Notices of these new fines are just being mailed out now, due to the late installation of a new computer system to handle it all. Fines for speeding and other moving violations are already higher as a result of this new law.

I'm cool with all of this, and I like where the new revenue is going. There's one small thing that concerns me.


The author, Rep. Dianne Delisi, R-Temple, said she has little sympathy for Texans who will soon receive notices of the expensive surcharges.

"If you look at the folks that are in the system now, I have no sympathy for DWIs. They can howl all they want to."

The get-tough surcharges are patterned after a New Jersey program, in effect for more than 15 years, that has dramatically changed driver behavior, according to Delisi's office.

"They went back and measured since they first had it in place. There was a 24 percent reduction in fatalities. Phenomenal, isn't it?" Delisi said.

She added that Texas has the highest number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities in the United States, but it will take until 2007 or 2008 to see if the financial penalties bring the desired results.


If I'm reading this correctly, then one of the intended and expected results of these new surcharges is a reduction in bad driving behaviors. This is, obviously, a good and desireable thing. One way we ought to be able to tell if it's having the effect we're hoping for is if there is an eventual decline in revenues stemming from these fines. And that's where my concern comes in. I worry that since this new law will at least initially bring in a lot of extra money for hospitals and trauma centers that funding for these services will become dependent on that revenue source. If so, then they'll be in a bind when this law begins to have the effect it's intended to have, namely that reduction in bad driving behavior and the reduction in fines that will accompany it.

It's therefore my hope that we'll keep in mind the primary goal of better road safety, and treat any extra revenues along the way as a temporary condition. As with gambling and sin taxes, we shouldn't count on bad habits to fund government services.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 30, 2004 to Crime and Punishment | TrackBack
Comments

As long as there are people on the roads that have no business driving, the surcharges will raise a fair amount of revenue for the state. If you really want to try something interesting, take the approach used in Finland and fine drivers based on their previous year's salary. It makes for some interesting fines.

Posted by: William Hughes on September 30, 2004 10:07 AM

Yeah, I agree about the similarity to "sin taxes." It's a bad idea to get government addicted to funding mechanisms tied to "bad behavior." I also wonder if this will encourage law enforcement to use shady tactics to nail people -- give financial incentive and I don't put it past them.

Now let's see them going after folks who eat, read, put on makeup or use the cell phone while driving. Depending on how and where they're doing it, they can be every bit as impaired, distracted and dangerous as someone who blows a .10. As much as there is a trend toward getting tough on DWI(, why single out amidst all the other forms of sometimes equally dangerous driving habits?

Posted by: Tim on September 30, 2004 1:01 PM

Charles:

This is TEXAS. No need to worry. I promise you we can create more home-grown bad drivers and import them from abroad faster than the government can ever get them off the road!

If we were talking about Wisconsin or Vermont or Sweden or some other such place where people are inclined to defer to authority then I might be more worried.

Posted by: Kent on September 30, 2004 1:43 PM

I also wonder if this will encourage law enforcement to use shady tactics to nail people -- give financial incentive and I don't put it past them.

Probably not, since none of the revenue automatically goes back to the police. But it is something to watch out for.

Now let's see them going after folks who eat, read, put on makeup or use the cell phone while driving. Depending on how and where they're doing it, they can be every bit as impaired, distracted and dangerous as someone who blows a .10. As much as there is a trend toward getting tough on DWI, why single out amidst all the other forms of sometimes equally dangerous driving habits?

Hear, hear. I saw someone in front of me actually pull over to make or take a cell phone call the other day! With Texas plates! I couldn't believe my eyes.

Posted by: Mathwiz on September 30, 2004 4:24 PM

The get-tough surcharges are patterned after a New Jersey program, in effect for more than 15 years, that has dramatically changed driver behavior, according to Delisi's office.

"They went back and measured since they first had it in place. There was a 24 percent reduction in fatalities. Phenomenal, isn't it?" Delisi said.

Maybe, but you have to keep in mind there have been a lot of other changes in the last 15 years that could've contributed to the lower fatality rate. For instance, airbags are much more common now.

To do this study right, they should have compared it to a control group, where everything was the same except for the surcharges. (A neighboring state, for instance.) From the above, it doesn't sound like they did that, which renders the study worthless (except as propaganda).

Hey, if these surcharges work, I'm all for them, but it doesn't look like they've proven that. Well, at least some of the money will go to help the victims of bad drivers in any case.

Posted by: Mathwiz on September 30, 2004 4:34 PM

Fines for speeding and other moving violations are already higher as a result of this new law.

One last thing. There are "moving violations" that don't necessarily indicate bad driving; e.g., "running" a stop sign below walking speed in the absence of traffic, under 10 MPH over a speed limit that's set artificially low, etc. Raising the fines for those violations does nothing to make our roads safer; it's strictly a back-door tax increase.

Posted by: Mathwiz on September 30, 2004 4:43 PM

An inexperienced driver age 16, does not become a safer driver because his parents pay hefty fine surcharges for him. These laws are extortion aimed at robbing people of their income. 3000.00 surcharge is rediculous and will start a chain reaction that lead to greater problems and in the meantime does nothing to promote safer highways. Think about it!!

Posted by: Judy on November 10, 2004 7:25 PM