NEW LAWS IN TEXAS
In Texas the State Legislature meets only every other year. Some say that is too often. The current session ended earlier this year and we are about to see the product of their efforts on our behalf. There are several new laws that will effect motorists. Â These changes range from serious changes in the seat belt laws that now require ALL passengers in a car to be buckled up, to mandatory driving classes for all drivers under 25.
The new law regarding cell phone usage in school zones has gotten most of the press, some of these other changes may hit home harder. As of Sept 1 all passengers will be required to wear seat belt, regardless of age, even if they are in the second or third row of seats. This applies up to 15 passenger vans. A motorcycle cannot carry a passenger/rider under 5 years old unless they are in a sidecar.
We have recapped some of the new laws below.
HB 537 requires all occupants of a vehicle, no matter their age, to be secured by a safety belt, no matter where they are seated in the vehicle; changes the definition of a passenger vehicle to include a passenger van designed to transport 15 or fewer passengers including the driver; removes the current exemption for third-party Medicaid transportation provisions regarding the use of child passenger safety seats; and prohibits a motorcycle operator from carrying a passenger under the age of 5 unless the child is seated in a sidecar attached to the motorcycle.
SB 61 amends the existing statute regarding child passenger safety seats. The bill requires that any child younger than 8 years of age be restrained in an approved child passenger safety seat unless the child is at least 4 feet, 9 inches in height. The fine is no more than $25 for a first offense and $250 for a second offense. The law also creates a new court cost for conviction of an offense under this section to be collected and used by TxDOT to buy safety seats for low income families. The law becomes effective on Sept. 1, 2009, but tickets for this offense cannot be issued until June 1, 2010. Police officers are allowed to issue a warning before that date.
HB 55 makes it illegal to use a wireless communication device in a school zone unless the vehicle is stopped or a hands-free device is used. Cities or counties wanting to enforce this law must post a sign at the beginning of each school zone to inform drivers that using a wireless communications device is prohibited and the operator is subject to a fine. It is a defense to prosecution if the operator was making an emergency call.
HB 2730 requires that all applicants under the age of 18 take the driving skills exam to receive a driver license. The law also requires that a provisional driver license (under 18) or instruction permit expire on an individual’s 18th birthday, removes the requirement that a provisional driver license or instruction permit be renewed annually and increases the fee for those licenses from $5 to $15. It also extends the current phase-two restrictions for holders of a graduated driver license from 6 months to 1 year. These restrictions include limited night driving, prohibited use of wireless communication devices and a limited number of passengers.
HB 339 increases the total hours of behind-the-wheel driving instruction a teen receives from 14 to 34 and creates an adult driver education requirement for applicants older than 18 and younger than 21.
SB 1317 creates a six-hour driver education course required for driver license applicants 18 years of age or older. It also mandates that applicants 25 or under must submit to an approved driver education course. (Goes into effect March 1, 2010.)
SB 328 gives DPS the power to suspend a minor’s driver license if they fail a breath or blood alcohol test while operating a watercraft. Chapter 524 of the Transportation Code also clearly defines the suspension period for an individual who was under the age of 21 at the time when the offense of boating under the influence or driving under the influence of alcohol occurred. The law also increases the reinstatement fee for a license suspended under sections 49.04-49.08, Penal Code from $50 to $100.
HB 2730 increases the driver license sanction from a one-year CDL license disqualification to a lifetime disqualification if a person uses a motor vehicle to transport, conceal or harbor an alien. If a child is engaged in conduct involving a severe form of trafficking persons, a judge at a juvenile hearing is required to order the juvenil’s driver license or permit to be suspended.
HB 2730 prohibits DPS from issuing a driver license or identification card to a person who has not established a domicile in Texas. The law specifies that an applicant may receive a driver license at a post office box only if the applicant’s residence address has also been provided, with some exceptions.
SB 129 authorizes neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs) to be operated on roads with a posted speed limit of 45 miles per hour or less. The bill authorizes driver license holders to operate NEVs without having a motorcycle endorsement, clarifies that drivers and passengers in such vehicles are not required to wear helmets and specifies that enclosed three-wheeled vehicles as described in the bill are authorized to operate in preferential lanes.