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New Driver Laws You Need to Know

Several traffic safety bills were passed during the 2013 Texas legislative session. As a result, several new motorist laws go into effect on September 1. They include an expanded Slow Down/Move Over law, tougher Graduated Driver License laws, a new motorcycle license, and rules about ATVs. Here’s what you need to know before you get behind the wheel.


On the Road

Slow Down/Move Over

Auto Accident

It’s been a decade since the passage of the original Slow Down/Move Over law, which requires motorists approaching stopped emergency response vehicles with lights flashing to slow down and change lanes (when possible and safe to do so). Later, tow trucks were included in the list of responders covered by this law, an issue that AAA Texas lobbied for.

During the recent legislative session, the Slow Down/Move Over law was expanded to add TxDOT highway maintenance and construction vehicles to the scope as follows:

  • When approaching and passing these vehicles stopped on or alongside the road with overhead lights flashing, motorists are required to slow down to at least 20 mph below the posted speed limit.
  • When the posted speed limit is 25 miles per hour or less, the maximum driving speed is 5 mph until you’ve passed the stopped vehicles.
  • If the roadway has two or more lanes of traffic moving in the same direction, you have the option of vacating the lane closest to the stopped vehicle, rather than slowing down.
  • The only exception to Slow Down/Move Over law applies in instances where a barrier separates moving traffic from the maintenance or construction vehicle.

Stop for School Buses

Current law requires motorists to stop for a school bus when its stop sign is extended, the overhead lights are flashing, and the vehicle has stopped, as children are getting on or off the bus and may be walking across the roadway. However, a recent one-day statewide observational study revealed that many motorists aren’t stopping. So, the legislature decided that increasing fines may change driver behavior. Now, a first-offense fine with no property damage or injuries can cost up to $1,250. Offenders who get a second citation within five years may be fined up to $2,000.


New Proof of Insurance

Previous law required drivers to carry a motor vehicle proof-of-insurance ID card in their vehicles. The legislature passed a new law that recognizes electronic versions of a proof-of-insurance ID card, so producing this evidence via your smartphone is now an option. However, keep your paper card available, since you may still be required to produce the paper copy at a court appearance or hearing.


License Plates

New legislation makes it a misdemeanor and imposes a fine of up to $200 for driving a passenger vehicle without a plate on both the front and back of the vehicle.


Cell Phones While Driving

Cell Phones While Driving

Although efforts by AAA Texas and other traffic safety groups to pass a statewide ban on texting while driving were unsuccessful this year, lawmakers did expand restrictions on wireless communication devices around schools. State law currently prohibits use of a cell phone and other wireless communication devices while driving in a school crossing zone unless the driver is using a hands free-device or the vehicle is not moving. The new law makes it illegal for motorists to use cell phones and other wireless communications devices while driving anywhere on public school property when the reduced speed limit is in effect for the school crossing zone. However, the law permits use in a stopped vehicle or use with a hands-free device.


DRIVER LICENSING

Teen Driver

Teen Drivers

With parental approval, Texas teens can obtain a “hardship license” at the age of 15. Previously, a hardship license exempted the teen from the Graduated Driver License (GDL) restrictions. This has changed. Legislators closed that loophole so that teens with a hardship license must also adhere to GDL restrictions.

Additionally, the length of time that teens are under GDL restrictions has increased from age 17 to age 18.

Teens are now required to get 10 additional hours of behind-the-wheel driver training practice, bringing the total in-car driving training to a 30-hour requirement to become eligible to graduate from a driving permit to a provisional driver’s license.

AAA Driver Education

Note: As a reminder, AAA Texas offers several resources for parents of new or soon-to-be teen drivers, including a 90-minute Dare to Prepare workshop to explain the steps of graduated driver licensing. You can learn when the next workshop is offered by contacting your local AAA Texas branch or visiting AAA.com/safety4teens. We also have a comprehensive website that offers information and tips on many topics related to teen driving. Visit teendriving.aaa.com, and select “Texas” from the pull-down menu at the top right of the page to get state-specific content.


Driver’s License Testing

AAA Driver Education

While it may now take a little longer for teens to complete the Graduated Driver Licensing program, greater flexibility is available for those taking the in-car test. Driving schools, certain organizations and some employers, and other government agencies can now administer the on-the-road driver’s license test upon meeting state certification requirements. Previously, only the Department of Public Safety could administer this test at a state driver’s license office.


Motorcycles/Trikes

Until now, there was no special training or licensing required for operating the three-wheeled motorcycles called trikes. Since the operation of trikes is significantly different than driving a two-wheeled motorcycle, the state legislature has directed the Department of Public Safety to develop and administer a specialized motorcycle training and safety program for all trike operators. These motorcyclists must pass the training before they will be issued a new Class M restricted trike driver’s license.


ATVs

The operator must hold a driver’s license or a commercial license as well as an ATV safety certificate and carry these documents on their person while operating the ATV. Drivers and riders are also required to wear a safety helmet and eye protection.