What is permissible while you’re on the road varies from state to state. Safety laws are designed to keep drivers, passengers, and even pedestrians safe and Texas, like other states, has its own set of laws governing the rules of the road. While some issues are only common sense - don’t drink and drive, for example—others may not be. Knowing the rules will not only keep you safe, it may also save you the expense of a ticket or even a suspended license or jail time.
Don’t Drink and Drive in Texas
Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI) can have serious consequences - if you drink and drive, your driving ability is impaired. While drunk driving is always a bad idea, what legally constitutes “drunk driving” depends on where you are and also how old you are.
Texas determines your level of intoxication according to your blood alcohol concentration (BAC). If you’re not 21, it’s illegal to have any amount of alcohol in your blood. If you’re 21 or over, and you’re not a commercial driver, the limit is currently .08%.
If you do find yourself charged with a DWI, the penalties can be steep. Consequences for a first offense can include:
- Up to $2000 fine
- Jail time of 3 days up to 6 months
- Driver’s license revoked for as long as a year
- A yearly fee of up to $2000 per year for 3 years if you want to keep your license
Further DWIs can mean longer jail time and permanent loss of your license. If you are a minor convicted of a DWI your punishment may also include community service and the requirement that you attend alcohol awareness classes.
Texas wants you to report dangerous drivers
If someone is driving recklessly, or you think they may be drunk, report them by calling (800) 525-5555. This toll-free number is the Motorists Helpline. Let them know what kind of car you’re reporting, what direction it’s headed in, and if possible the license plate number.
Reporting a drunk driver may save lives. Intoxicated drivers may:
- Weave or swerve into other lanes or onto the shoulder
- Have difficulty staying in their own lane
- Drive totally in the wrong lane
- Speed up or slow down randomly
- Drive much slower than the speed limit
Other signs of intoxicated driving can include:
- Slow reaction to traffic lights and stop signs
- Improper use of turn signals or headlights
- Unsafe lane changes or passing
- Aggressive behavior like shouting, throwing things, etc.
Intoxicated drivers are a serious problem, and a Texas Defensive Driving course can help prepare you for dealing with dangerous drivers.
Texas says wear your seat-belt
Some states are more serious than others about seatbelts, and Texas is one of them. Both driver and passengers are required to wear their seatbelts, and failure to do so can result in stiff fines. If you’re caught with no seatbelt, the penalties are:
- A fine of up to $200 if you’re the driver
- A fine of $25 to $50 for passengers over 14
- For passengers under 17, the driver may be fined an additional $100 to $200
- Drivers may also receive a fine of $25 to $200 for people under 18 riding in an open or flatbed truck
Texas wants your children in their car seatsUntil a child is eight years old or more than 4’9” tall, the child must ride in a car seat or booster seat. Not securing your child in a car seat seriously increases the likelihood of injury in a crash, and different ages need different car seats.
- Infants (birth to 12 months or up to 35 pounds) should be secured in a rear-facing car seat appropriate for their size - federally approved car seats should list their height and weight capacity. Follow the manufacturer’s installation/operation instructions carefully, as improperly secured car seats are dangerous.
- Small children 1-4 years old and up to 40 pounds should be in a front-facing seat.
- Older children should use a booster seat until they are at least 4’9 or over 8 years.
Texas drivers may be fined $25 for the first offense of failing to use a car seat, and as much as $250 for further offenses. While it is not presently a law, infants and children should never ride in the front seat of a car with airbags as they have been known to cause serious injury or even death. Always put children and infants in the rear seat.
Don’t leave your children alone in the car
If you leave a child under 7 years old alone in your car for more than 5 minutes, you may receive a visit from Child Protective Services. You may also be assessed a $500 fine. It is illegal to leave children under 7 alone; they must be attended by someone who is at least 14 years old if you leave them for more than 5 minutes. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services discourages leaving children unattended for any length of time due to the dangers involved---it only takes a few seconds to abduct a child, or for serious injury or even death to happen.
Using your cell phone in TexasWhile cities and counties may have their own specific rules, state law allows cell phone while driving unless you:
- Are under 18
- Have had a learner’s permit for under 6 months
- Are driving a school bus with children on it
- Or are at a school crossing
Again, cities and counties may have their own rules, so check with local law enforcement to avoid fines.
Turn your headlights on
Texas motor vehicles must have two headlights in working order, and both must shine white. They may not have any features such as covers or grilles which may obstruct them.
Headlights must be used from 30 minutes past sunset to 3 minutes prior to sunrise. They must also be used any time that visibility is less than 1000 feet. Motorcyclists must use lights even during the day; this makes them more visible to other vehicles and reduces the likelihood of accidents. Bicyclists must have a red light or reflector on the back of their bikes, and a light on the front during the night.
Helmets are optional in Texas, if you’re over 21While helmets greatly improve the safety of motorcyclists, they are not required in some cases. Provided you are over 21, you may choose to forgo a helmet if
- You have a health insurance plan which covers injuries acquired in a motorcycle accident and
- You have completed a motorcycle safety course successfully
If you haven’t fulfilled these requirements and you are stopped without a helmet, you will be ticketed. If you are under 21, a helmet is required regardless. If you are a bicyclist, the rules and requirements vary by county and city. Check with local law enforcement for more information on laws regarding bicycle helmets. Helmets prevent head injuries, and wearing one is a smart idea even when not required by law.
If you’ve already gotten a ticketIf you’ve already received a ticket, a Texas Defensive Driving course may be a good option for you. Not only will it make you a better driver, it may improve your car insurance rate or even help lower the amount of your fine.
Texas Defensive Driving courses, also called “Traffic school”, are licensed by the Texas Education Agency. They’re available to people with moving violations, those who want to lower their insurance rates, or those who just want to become better drivers.
If you have a moving violation, the traffic court judge may give you the option of completing a defensive driving course. Successful completion of the course may result in dismissal of the citation and/or no points being added to your license. Your insurance company may even give you a safe driver discount. Even if you haven’t gotten a ticket, traffic school can be an invaluable resource for becoming an even better driver than you already are.