Why Won’t Bad Drivers Have to Pay for Huge Medical Bills They’ve Caused?

A person who creates a problem should also be part of the solution. That’s why Texas has had the Driver Responsibility Surcharge Program (DRP) since 2003.

The program requires reckless drivers to pay fines that fund trauma centers where the victims of car accidents receive care. Under the program, drivers receive points for various traffic infractions. Drivers pay $100 for six points in three years and an additional $25 per point above six. A drunk driver wracks up even more fines — $1,000 for a first time DWI conviction and $2,000 if the drunk driver’s blood alcohol concentration was above .15. A driver who has an invalid license owes $250.

The money goes to Level I trauma centers such as John Peter Smith Hospital (pictured here) in Fort Worth that accept all patients regardless of ability to pay. Often these trauma centers are the only place critically injured patients can receive lifesaving urgent care.

Now some Texas lawmakers have deemed this program unfair to the bad drivers and have introduced a bill to repeal it. There’s no word on how the victims of these bad drivers will get the medical care they need without the funding.

Often they have no health insurance, and if they do their company denies or minimizes payment, the hospital is out-of-network, and/or deductibles and co-pays are prohibitive. 

The Driver Surcharge Program has NOT Failed

Victims of serious car crashes in Dallas-Fort Worth are typically transported to JPS or Parkland in Dallas, which have the high-level skills and resources to treat severely injured patients. The costs of trauma care at JPS can rise far above insurance policy limits, even for policyholders with good auto insurance. The problem is worse if the victim was hit by an uninsured motorist — at least 25% of drivers have no liability insurance — and so has no means of recovery from the at-fault driver.

I just settled an auto accident case in which a 17 year-old high school student suffered brain damage and was treated for two months at JPS when the driver of the car in which he was a passenger ran a red light and collided with a truck. His family faced $700,000 in medical bills, which we were able to reduce to $7,000. And yet lawmakers claim that a $100 surcharge is a burden to a driver who runs a red light.

The victim has no choice in the matter, as opposed to the bad drivers who could easily avoid the burdensome fine. If a bad driver wants to avoid paying $100, I suggest he not run that red light. And as for the drunk drivers, $1,000 can be an effective deterrence.

The analysis of Senate Bill 90 says, “The DRP has failed on every measurable front.” However, for the victims of car crashes, the DRP is literally a lifesaver. JPS was able to absorb the costs of my client’s medical care only by receiving funding from other sources, including the DRP. To rip this vital life cord without an alternative funding source is unwise.

I have another suggestion for lawmakers. Instead of cutting funding to trauma units, why not pass legislation that reduces the need for these units? The texting ban bill would be a smart place to start.

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