New Texas Traffic Laws for 2020
Every year, the Texas legislature tweaks traffic laws with the goal of achieving greater safety for the citizens of the state. In 2020, a new law that eliminates an existing law is designed to improve the fairness of state law by providing relief from a program that was seen as trapping low-income Texans in a cycle of debt (Texas Tribune).
The new law, House Bill 2048, which went into effect on September 1, 2019, ended the section of the Texas’ Driver Responsibility Program that added surcharges before allowing the reinstatement of suspended driving privileges. The Texas Department of Public Safety announced, “The State of Texas has repealed the Driver Responsibility Program – Chapter 708, Transportation Code. The Department of Public Safety has reinstated all driver privileges that were previously suspended solely for having unpaid surcharges.” An immediate result is that more than 600,000 Texans became eligible on September 1 to have their driver’s licenses reinstated.
The 16-year-old program had left more than a million people unable to keep or renew their driver’s licenses by 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. “It’s hard to overstate the harms of the program,” Emily Gerrick, senior staff attorney with the Texas Fair Defense Project, told the Texas Tribune. “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.”
About 635,000 drivers whose fees and suspensions stem solely from the Driver Responsibility Program will either immediately be eligible to have their driver’s licenses reinstated or (about 350,000 drivers) be eligible after paying a reinstatement fee of about $100.
HB 2048 also increases state fines for traffic and intoxicated drivers violations. State traffic fines will increase from $30 to $50 and intoxicated driver fines will increase to $3,000 for the first conviction within 36 months; $4,500 for a subsequent conviction within 36 months; or
$6,000 for a conviction if the person’s alcohol concentration level was shown to be 0.16 or more.
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