The Austin American Statesman ran an article today called “Unlicensed Drivers Clog System”. The short version of it is this: in 2003, the Texas Legislature needed to pull an accounting trick out of their hat, so that they could comply with the Texas Constitution’s balanced budget requirement. (See 2003 Budget Statement by Texas Comptroller.)

One of the ways they came up with a balanced budget was to impose future surcharges for DWI, No Insurance, and other offenses, and then project out how much revenue they would receive to cover their expenditures. Like most “blood from a turnip” schemes, they conveniently overestimated the financial returns they would receive (and they called it a “surcharge”, because who wants to vote for a “tax”?) The truth is that most folks that drive without insurance, do so because of poor financial health to start off with; adding extra financial burdens to their becoming street legal just increases your uninsured motorist coverage.

Unfortunately, the “pay us even more money, or we’ll suspend your license” law didn’t have the intended effect. It doesn’t raise that much money for the State of Texas (except in the case of those Austinites who can afford the $3000 to $6000 surcharge following a DWI conviction), but it does cause more folks to be driving around town with a suspended license.

Then throw into the mix this basic fact of life: people who are driving around with expired insurance often haven’t updated their address with Texas DPS in years. Then, when DPS mails them a letter about the suspension to the address on their license, they don’t receive it.

What happens next? A bunch of folks end up arrested and facing charges of DWLS, when they have a defense: they didn’t have actual notice that their licenses were suspended.

Now it may be true that some of these defendant’s haven’t behaved 100% responsibly, and need to be “encouraged” to become street legal, and to update their addresses with the DPS. But forcing them to pay even more money before they are allowed a valid license… that’s just counterproductive.