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Changes to Texas traffic laws: Autonomous vehicles, Cell Phones and Child Rescues

If you are a licensed driver here in Texas, chances are you have received a traffic ticket at some point in your driving history. If you are a driver in a large city, like my home Houston, odds are you may have gotten a traffic ticket from one of several law enforcement agencies. If you are not a native Texan, you might not be familiar with the numerous law enforcement agencies that are patrolling the streets and highways in the Houston metro area, as well as other Texas cities. Here in Texas, our state troopers are employed by the Texas Department of Public Safety (“DPS”). In Houston and the metro area, where it is estimated more than 6 million people live, there are county Constables, county Sheriff’s Deputies, subsidiary municipal police departments, independent school district officers, mass transit officers, university officers, and of course, the Houston Police Department. If you commit a traffic offense in their respective jurisdictions you can be ticketed, and on many highways you can be ticketed by several different agencies.

If you get ticketed, the first thing you must do is read the ticket. Seems like common sense but different jurisdictions have different requirements. Tickets normally are full of important information including the offense, the fine, your court date, or instructions on how to get a court date. Second thing you must do is take care of the ticket and not let it go ignored. Stuffing it in the glove box may result in an arrest warrant. Many courts allow you to handle your traffic citations online, by fax or some smaller cities still may allow you to take care of a ticket and payment by telephone. You may be anticipating a ticket if your foot is known to be heavy on the gas pedal, but it is possible your ticket may include a violation you were not aware of and did not anticipate. So slow down on the roads, and here is a list of some of the new Texas laws that went into effect in late 2017.

New Texas laws that affect drivers and roads:

  • Driver education courses must include information about how to properly install child safety seats;
  • Ticketing officers must verify a driver’s insurance through TexasSure.com;
  • DPS no longer must use color photographs on Texas driver’s licenses;
  • Driverless cars may operate on Texas roads;
  • DPS may govern the operation of automated motor vehicles (driverless), and the new law prohibits Texas cities and towns and other state agencies from regulating the operation of such vehicles, and Texas will allow driver-less cars to be tested on Texas roads;
  • Removing a vulnerable individual (child) from a vehicle if you reasonably believe they are in imminent danger can be done without the risk of being sued for damages by breaking into the vehicle to rescue the child. This does not apply to dogs yet, but you can report it and animal cruelty charges may result;
  • Driver’s may not use their cell phones to read, write or send an electronic message while driving, and if a car accident is caused by texting and driving and results in death or serious injury of another person the texting driver can be charged with a Class “A” Misdemeanor with a fine of $4,000.00 maximum and 1-year jail time;
  • January 9th is designated as Law Enforcement Appreciation Day;
  • July 7th is designated as Fallen Law Enforcement Officer Day.

In addition to new traffic laws the Texas legislature was very busy last summer and created 60 new Class “C” Misdemeanors. This class of misdemeanor is punishable by fine only and is handled by the same municipal court judge handling traffic tickets. Municipal courts in Texas handle all traffic violations found in the Texas Transportation Code, and any other Class “C” Misdemeanor.  There are numerous Class “C” Misdemeanors including criminal violations as well as city code enforcement violations. This means when you are in municipal court in a smaller city you may be waiting for the prosecutor and judge to deal with issues such as loose dogs, unpermitted chickens, public intoxication, or assault; all non-jail offenses known as Class “C” Misdemeanors. Larger cities often have specific designated courts for traffic citations and deed enforcement. Be patient and remember judges, prosecutors, bailiffs, and court staff are real people too.

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