Future of the Driver License Program Is Pending

September 14, 2020

Legislative News

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The University of Texas at Austin's Center for Transportation Research (CTR) has completed its study and released its findings and recommendations regarding the future of the driver licensing program in Texas.

Last session, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 616 by Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), requiring the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to contract with a third-party vendor to study the program and the problems that have plagued it for many years. At the Legislature’s direction, the study reviewed three potential outcomes for the program:

1. Allow it to remain at DPS.
2. Move it to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
3. Create a stand-alone agency to house it.

The study recommended the Legislature create a stand-alone agency for the program and provided additional recommendations to improve it regardless of where it eventually resides. The full report can be found here.

While the study’s ultimate recommendation was to create a stand-alone agency, the findings make compelling arguments for moving the program to the DMV. For example, creating a stand-alone agency would add $12.7 million in administrative costs, but if the program were moved to the DMV, the cost would be neutral for the state. Since the state is facing a significant budget deficit due to the COVID-19 pandemic, cost will be a significant factor in the state’s decision.

Currently, tax assessor-collectors work directly with the DMV to issue vehicle titles and registrations. Additionally, 11 counties offer limited driver’s license services. To determine whether moving the program to the DMV is feasible, CTR needed to examine not only DMV’s infrastructure but also county infrastructures and determine whether other tax offices had capacity to provide driver’s license services.

In the study, the CTR team conducted two surveys of tax assessor-collectors. The first survey included a small sample group of 31 tax assessor-collectors to determine the feasibility of offering driver’s license services in their offices. CTR received 22 responses. The second survey was sent to all 254 tax assessor-collectors to better understand their role in handling vehicle titles and registrations and their interaction with the DMV. The researchers received 81 responses. Many tax assessor-collectors indicated that local tax offices would need to increase staff, infrastructure and the driver’s license fee in order to be able to administer the program. A detailed analysis of tax assessor-collector responses can be found online.

Ultimately, the fate of the program lies with the Legislature. Tax assessor-collectors will continue to be a valuable resource for legislators as they make their decision next session. Additionally, tax assessor-collectors want to ensure that providing driver’s license services remains optional for the counties and will continue providing input to ensure that the program succeeds regardless of where it is housed.

For more information on this article, please contact Katy Estrada.