e-Texas e-Texassmaller smarter faster governmentDecember, 2000
Carole Keeton Rylander
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts

Recommendations of the Texas Comptroller

Chapter 11: Public Safety and Corrections

Create an Interactive Driver

Record Retrieval System


Texas should create an interactive driver-record retrieval system that employers could use to obtain up-to-date information on their employees’ safety history. Such a system also would help protect Texas schoolchildren by allowing school districts to review the current safety records of applicants for bus driver positions as well as current bus drivers.


In 1999, 6.3 million traffic accidents occurred in the US, resulting in 3.2 million injuries and 41,611 deaths. An average of 114 people die each day on American roads—one every 13 minutes.[1] Texas bears a disproportionate share of these accidents and costs. The latest available statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that Texas’ rate of fatalities per 100,000 residents in 1997 was 18.12, compared to the national average of 15.69.[2] In 1994, traffic accidents cost the US an estimated $150.5 billion.[3] The economic cost to Texas in the same year totaled $11.2 billion, or 7 percent of the national total.[4]

In an analysis of 183,749 crashes involving fatalities between 1993 and 1997, the Texas Transportation Institute found that 20 percent of them involved improperly licensed drivers. This figure includes drivers with no license; those with suspended, revoked, or expired licenses; and drivers who left the scene of an accident without providing license information.[5]

An interactive driver-records retrieval system could help Texas reduce the number of improperly licensed drivers on its roads and improve traffic safety. Such a system is already authorized under state law. A driver-record retrieval system would allow businesses with large vehicle pools, such as delivery and trucking companies, to determine whether they are employing drivers with poor safety records. School districts could use the service free of charge to ensure that their bus drivers have good safety records.

An interactive system would be enormously useful to Texas businesses. Traffic fatalities are the nation’s leading cause of work-related deaths and injuries, claiming the lives of three American workers every day.[6] According to one estimate, work-related motor vehicle crash injuries cost employers more than $55 billion in 1994, or $350 per employee, and resulted in 2,000 deaths and 323,000 injuries.[7] Traffic injuries cost Texas employers almost $4 billion. That translates to $480 per Texas employee, substantially higher than the national average.[8] Better knowledge of prior driving records could help reduce this toll. In 1999, for instance, nearly 30 percent of fatal crashes in the US involving large trucks featured truck drivers with at least one prior speeding conviction.[9]

School Bus Safety

Roughly 23 million children ride school buses in the US. Crashes involving school buses injured about 19,000 people in 1997.[10] From 1989 to 1999, 1,445 people in the US were killed in school bus-related crashes, for an average of 131 deaths annually.[11] In Texas, nearly 1.4 million children ride school buses each day.[12]

Section 521.022 of the Texas Transportation Code requires school bus driver records to be checked annually. The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), as authorized by the Texas Administrative Code, allocates “points” for school bus drivers’ traffic safety violations. Drivers convicted of driving while intoxicated (DWI), for instance, are allocated 10 points. Drivers convicted of speeding violations receive three points, as do those caught driving without a driver’s license. Accidents with no indication of fault cost drivers two points.

According to state law, school bus drivers can have no more than 10 points on their record during any three- to seven-year period, depending on the type of violation.[13] This point system covers drivers’ records both on and off the job.

Unfortunately, Texas’ process for checking school bus driver records is slow and tedious. Typically, a school district forwards drivers’ names to DPS’s School Bus Transportation Section to obtain their driving records. The section then forwards these names to DPS’s Records Section, which manually enters the names in its system, prints any matching records it finds, and mails them back to the school district. The district then totals the violation points for each driver and takes appropriate steps depending on what it learns.[14]

DPS charges private citizens from $5 to $6 for checking each three-year driving record; the precise amount varies with the number of records requested. School districts pay no fee.

Interactive Driver-Records Systems

New Mexico contracted with SAMBA Holdings, Inc. to speed up its driver-record checks. Through its interactive software DriveWave, SAMBA obtains an electronic copy of New Mexico’s driver records each day and provides the information for a charge to authorized users such as insurance companies and motor fleet operators. Company fleet administrators submit driver names and license numbers to SAMBA and establish criteria that must be met before SAMBA notifies them of violations. SAMBA then monitors the drivers continuously, and notifies the company’s fleet administrator whenever a violation meeting the company’s criteria is recorded on New Mexico’s driver database.

SAMBA estimates that it has made more than 1 million driver-record reports since it contracted to provide the interactive service in July 1999. The system has dramatically reduced the burden placed on the state by business users.[15]

New Mexico’s arrangement provides an easy way for organizations and businesses to check driving records, while reducing the burden on state workers. Electronic processing has reduced the process’ turnaround time and cut expenses for printing, mailing, and faxing.

Since Texas school districts are required to check records only once a year, a school bus driver with a DWI or suspended license could continue operating for up to a year before being identified. An interactive driver records system would immediately alert districts of employees with unsafe driving records. In addition, the knowledge that they are being monitored continually may encourage drivers to drive more safely.

Section 521.055 of the Texas Transportation Code already authorizes DPS to implement an interactive system with private vendors. The fee for three-year driving records under such section is $4.50.

Under current state law, entities eligible to obtain DPS driver records must meet certain legal requirements to ensure that Texans’ rights to privacy are not violated. Any vendor operating an interactive system in Texas would have to follow the same statutory requirements. Periodic DPS audits of the vendor’s operation would ensure compliance with these statutes.


A.Under the authority granted by Section 521.055 of the Texas Transportation Code, the Department of Public Safety should contract with a private vendor or vendors to establish a system, separate from its mainframe computer, allowing interactive access to certain driver’s license record information.

DPS should require the vendor(s) to comply with state law governing the proper disclosure of driver records information through stringent security requirements and periodic audits.

B.Private vendors of a system authorized by Section 521.055 of the Texas Transportation Code must provide their services to school districts free of charge.

Fiscal Impact

An interactive driver-records system could be established without additional state funding. Such a system may generate new revenue for the state because the interactive system would make it easier and quicker to conduct driver-records searches.

[1] National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Center for Statistics and Analysis, “Traffic Safety Facts 1999: Overview” (Washington, DC) (http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/ncsa/pdf/Overview99.pdf). (Internet document.)

[2] National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Center for Statistics and Analysis, Traffic Safety Facts 1998: A Compilation of Motor Vehicle Crash Data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System and the General Estimates System (Washington, DC, October 1999), p. 149 (http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/ncsa/tsf-1998.pdf). (Internet document.)

[3] National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Center for Statistics and Analysis, “Traffic Safety Facts 1999—Overview.”

[4] National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Center for Statistics and Analysis, “State Traffic Safety Information: Texas” (Washington, DC) (http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/ncsa/stateinfo/texas.htm). (Internet document.)

[5] AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, Unlicensed to Kill, by Lindsay I. Griffin III and Sandra DeLaZerda, Safety and Structural Systems Division, Texas Transportation Institute, The Texas A&M University (Washington, DC, June 2000).

[6] National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, “NIOSH Report Highlights Motor Vehicle Crash Risk for Workers, Recommends Practical Protective Measures,” Washington, DC, July 27, 1998 (http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/motorveh.html). (Internet document.)

[7] National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Center for Statistics and Analysis, “What Do Traffic Crashes Cost? Total Costs to Employers by State and Industry” (Washington, DC).

[8] National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Center for Statistics and Analysis, “State Traffic Safety Information: Texas.”

[9] National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Center for Statistics and Analysis, “Traffic Safety Facts 1999: Large Trucks,” Washington, DC (http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/ncsa/pdf/Truck99.pdf). (Internet document.)

[10] National Safety Council, “School Bus Safety Rules,” Itasca, Illinois (http://www.nsc.org/library/facts/schlbus.htm). (Internet Document.)

[11] National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Center for Statistics and Analysis, “Traffic Safety Facts 1999: School Buses,” Washington, DC (http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/ncsa/pdf/Schbus99.pdf). (Internet document.)

[12] Texas Department of Public Safety, “School Bus Safety Week Kicks into Gear,” Austin, Texas, October 13, 2000. (Press release.)

[13] 37 T.A.C. §14.14.

[14] Telephone interview with Jo Patterson, Texas Department of Public Safety, Austin, Texas, November 21, 2000.

[15] Memorandum from Chris McKay, Business Development, SAMBA Holdings, Inc., November 17, 2000.

e-Texas is an initiative of Carole Keeton Rylander, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
Post Office Box 13528, Capitol Station
Austin, Texas

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