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Texas Laws Affecting Motorists

Last update: June 2016  .

We're not lawyers, so nothing on this site should be construed as legal advice. If you want real legal opinion, contact an attorney.

This page has the actual text of Texas laws governing drivers, which of particular interest to cyclists. Lower section numbers are from the Texas Penal Code (e.g., Sec. 22.01), and higher numbers are from the Texas Transportation Code (e.g., Sec. 545).  If you want the actual source material, see the official statutes.  (And here's the complete text of Ch. 545 of the Transportation Code.)  Some citations have been edited for brevity, especially when the excised wording wouldn't typically apply to driver-on-bicyclist cases.  I first compiled these laws in 1998.  Note that most states have adopted the Uniform Traffic Code, so most traffic laws are the same or similar from state to state.

Contents below:

Can't open door in cyclist's path

Sec. 545.418.  OPENING VEHICLE DOORS.


A person may not:
(1)  open the door of a motor vehicle on the side available to moving traffic, unless the door may be opened in reasonable safety without interfering with the movement of other traffic;  or
(2)  leave a door on the side of a vehicle next to moving traffic open for longer than is necessary to load or unload a passenger.
[See a list of cyclists killed by the door prize.]

Acts 1995, 74th Leg., ch. 165, Sec. 1, eff. Sept. 1, 1995

Actual or threatened harm by a motorist is assault

Sec. 22.01. Assault


(a) A person commits an offense if the person:  
(1) intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes bodily injury to another...;
 
(2) intentionally or knowingly threatens another with imminent bodily injury...; or  

(3) intentionally or knowingly causes physical contact with another when the person knows or should reasonably believe that the other will regard the contact as offensive or provocative.

(b) An offense under Subsection (a)(1) is a Class A misdemeanor [with various exceptions that provide for more serious charges, but not for typical cases of drivers assaulting other road users]

(c) An offense under Subsection (a)(2) or (3) is a Class C misdemeanor [with various exceptions that provide for more serious charges, but not for typical cases of drivers threatening other road users]

(g)  If conduct constituting an offense under this section also constitutes an offense under another section of this code, the actor may be prosecuted under either section or both sections.

Last amended 2013

Sec. 22.02. Aggravated Assault.

(a) A person commits an offense if the person commits assault as defined in Section 22.01 and the person:  

(1) causes serious bodily injury to another, including the person's spouse; or
(2) uses or exhibits a deadly weapon during the commission of the assault.

(b) An offense under this section is a felony of the second degree [with exceptions that usually won't apply to driver-on-bike cases]

"Serious bodily injury" is defined as "bodily injury that creates a substantial risk of death or that causes death, serious permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ." (Penal Code Chapter 1, 1.07(a)(46))

Last amended 2009

Here's how "deadly weapon" is defined:

Sec. 1.07. Definitions.

(17) "Deadly weapon" means:

(B) anything that in the manner of its use or intended use is capable of causing death or serious bodily injury.

In Nov. 2003, two teenagers in New Braunfels, Texas were charged with Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon for dropping pumpkins from an overpass onto passing vehicles. In this case, the pumpkins were considered deadly weapons. [article]

Last amended 2011

Recklessness


Sec. 22.05. Deadly Conduct.


  (a) A person commits an offense if he recklessly engages in conduct that places another in imminent danger of serious bodily injury.
  (e) An offense under Subsection (a) is a Class A misdemeanor. An offense under Subsection (b) is a felony of the third degree.  

Last amended 1994

Sec. 545.401. Reckless Driving; Offense.

  (a) A person commits an offense if the person drives a vehicle in wilful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.

  (b) An offense under this section is a misdemeanor punishable by:  

(1) a fine not to exceed $200;

(2) confinement in county jail for not more than 30 days; or

(3) both the fine and the confinement.

Last amended 1995

Hit & Run


Accident Involving Personal Injury or Death (Sec. 550.021)

(a)  The operator of a vehicle involved in an accident that results or is reasonably likely to result in injury to or death of a person shall:

(1)  immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident or as close to the scene as possible;
(2)  immediately return to the scene of the accident if the vehicle is not stopped at the scene of the accident;
(3)  immediately determine whether a person is involved in the accident, and if a person is involved in the accident, whether that person requires aid; and
(4)  remain at the scene of the accident until the operator complies with the requirements of Section 550.023.

(b)  An operator of a vehicle required to stop the vehicle by Subsection (a) shall do so without obstructing traffic more than is necessary.
(c)  A person commits an offense if the person does not stop or does not comply with the requirements of this section.  An offense under this section:

(1)  involving an accident resulting in:

(A)  death of a person is a felony of the second degree; or
(B)  serious bodily injury, as defined by Section 1.07, Penal Code, to a person is a felony of the third degree; and

(2)  involving an accident resulting in injury to which Subdivision (1) does not apply is punishable by:

(A)  imprisonment in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for not more than five years or confinement in the county jail for not more than one year;
(B)  a fine not to exceed $5,000; or
(C)  both the fine and the imprisonment or confinement.

Last amended 2013, to deal with two loopholes.  First, the legislature upped the penalty for fatalities from 2nd degree to 3rd degree, and upped the penalty for injuries to 2nd degree.  Before the change, there was an incentive for intoxicated drivers to leave the scene and get sobered up before getting caught, because the penalty for intoxicated manslaughter was higher than for hit-and-run fatalities.  Now they're both the same, so there's no more incentive for drivers to flee.  Second, they also added the wording "or is reasonably likely to result", to combat drivers who claimed that they didn't know they hit someone. (Yeah, it's still a bit weak, but it's better than it was.) These changes address the "Nestande Loopholes", after Gabrielle Nestande got only a slap on the wrist for the hit-and-run killing of a pedestrian, when many suspected Nestande was drunk at the time, and where Nestande claimed that she didn't know she hit someone.

Duty to Give Information and Render Aid (Sec. 550.023)

The operator of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in the injury or death of a person or damage to a vehicle that is driven or attended by a person shall:

(1) give the operator's name and address, the registration number of the vehicle the operator was driving, and the name of the operator's motor vehicle liability insurer to any person injured or the operator or occupant of or person attending a vehicle involved in the collision;

(2) if requested and available, show the operator's driver's license to a person described by Subdivision (1); and

(3) provide any person injured in the accident reasonable assistance, including transporting or making arrangements for transporting the person to a physician or hospital for medical treatment if it is apparent that treatment is necessary, or if the injured person requests the transportation.

Last amended 1995


Killing someone with a car (see also Intoxication Offenses, below)


Types of Criminal Homicide (Sec. 19.01)

(a) A person commits criminal homicide if he intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence causes the death of an individual.

(b) Criminal homicide is murder, capital murder, manslaughter, or criminally negligent homicide.  

Last amended 1994

 

Murder (Sec. 19.02)


(a) In this section:

(1) "Adequate cause" means cause that would commonly produce a degree of anger, rage, resentment, or terror in a person of ordinary temper, sufficient to render the mind incapable of cool reflection.

(2) "Sudden passion" means passion directly caused by and arising out of provocation by the individual killed or another acting with the person killed which passion arises at the time of the offense and is not solely the result of former provocation.

(b) A person commits an offense if he:

(1) intentionally or knowingly causes the death of an individual;

(2) intends to cause serious bodily injury and commits an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of an individual; or

(3) commits or attempts to commit a felony, other than manslaughter, and in the course of and in furtherance of the commission or attempt, or in immediate flight from the commission or attempt, he commits or attempts to commit an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of an individual.

(c) Except as provided by Subsection (d), an offense under this section is a felony of the first degree.

(d) At the punishment stage of a trial, the defendant may raise the issue as to whether he caused the death under the immediate influence of sudden passion arising from an adequate cause. If the defendant proves the issue in the affirmative by a preponderance of the evidence, the offense is a felony of the second degree.  

Last amended 1994

 

Manslaughter (Sec. 19.04)


(a) A person commits an offense if he recklessly causes the death of an individual.

(b) An offense under this section is a felony of the second degree.  

Last amended 1994

 

Criminally Negligent Homicide (Sec. 19.05)


(a) A person commits an offense if he causes the death of an individual by criminal negligence.

(b) An offense under this section is a state jail felony.   Last amended 1994

  "Criminal negligence" is defined in Sec. 6.03(d) thusly:
A person acts with criminal negligence, or is criminally negligent, with respect to circumstances surrounding his conduct or the result of his conduct when he ought to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the circumstances exist or the result will occur. The risk must be of such a nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the actor's standpoint.  (Last amended 1994)


 

Intoxication offenses

Sec. 49.01:  Definitions


(1)  "Alcohol concentration" means the number of grams of alcohol per:
(A)  210 liters of breath;
(B)  100 milliliters of blood; or
(C)  67 milliliters of urine.

(2)  "Intoxicated" means:
(A)  not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties by reason of the introduction of alcohol, a controlled substance, a drug, a dangerous drug, a combination of two or more of those substances, or any other substance into the body; or
(B)  having an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more.

Last amended 2001

Sec. 49.04:  Driving While Intoxicated


(a) A person commits an offense if the person is intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle in a public place.

(b)  Except as provided by Subsections (c) and (d) and Section 49.09, an offense under this section is a Class B misdemeanor, with a minimum term of confinement of 72 hours.

(c)  If it is shown on the trial of an offense under this section that at the time of the offense the person operating the motor vehicle had an open container of alcohol in the person's immediate possession, the offense is a Class B misdemeanor, with a minimum term of confinement of six days.

(d)  If it is shown on the trial of an offense under this section that an analysis of a specimen of the person's blood, breath, or urine showed an alcohol concentration level of 0.15 or more at the time the analysis was performed, the offense is a Class A misdemeanor.

Last amended 2011

Sec. 49.045:  Driving While Intoxicated with a Child Passenger


(a) A person commits an offense if:
(1)  the person is intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle in a public place; and
(2)  the vehicle being operated by the person is occupied by a passenger who is younger than 15 years of age.

(b)  An offense under this section is a state jail felony.

Last amended 2003

Sec. 49.07:  Intoxication Assault

(a) A person commits an offense if the person, by accident or mistake:

(1) while operating...a motor vehicle in a public place while intoxicated, by reason of that intoxication causes serious bodily injury to another.

(b) In this section, "serious bodily injury" means injury that creates a substantial risk of death or that causes serious permanent disfigurement or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.

(c) Except as provided by Section 49.09, an offense under this section is a felony of the third degree.

Last amended 2007

Sec. 49.08:  Intoxication Manslaughter


  (a) A person commits an offense if the person:  
(1) operates a motor vehicle in a public place...and
(2) is intoxicated and by reason of that intoxication causes the death of another by accident or mistake.
 (b) Except as provided by Section 49.09, an offense under this section is a felony of the second degree.

Last amended 2007

Sec. 49.09:  Enhanced Offenses and Penalties


(a)  Except as provided by Subsection (b), an offense under Section 49.04, 49.05, 49.06, or 49.065 is a Class A misdemeanor, with a minimum term of confinement of 30 days, if it is shown on the trial of the offense that the person has previously been convicted one time of an offense relating to the operating of a motor vehicle while intoxicated....

(b)  An offense under Section 49.04, 49.05, 49.06, or 49.065 is a felony of the third degree if it is shown on the trial of the offense that the person has previously been convicted:
(1)  one time of an offense under Section 49.08 or an offense under the laws of another state if the offense contains elements that are substantially similar to the elements of an offense under Section 49.08;  or
(2)  two times of any other offense relating to the operating of a motor vehicle while intoxicated...

(c)  For the purposes of this section:
(1)  "Offense relating to the operating of a motor vehicle while intoxicated" means:
(A)  an offense under Section 49.04 or 49.045;
(B)  an offense under Section 49.07 or 49.08, if the vehicle operated was a motor vehicle;
(C)  an offense under Article 6701l-1, Revised Statutes, as that law existed before September 1, 1994;
(D)  an offense under Article 6701l-2, Revised Statutes, as that law existed before January 1, 1984;
(E)  an offense under Section 19.05(a)(2), as that law existed before September 1, 1994, if the vehicle operated was a motor vehicle;  or
(F)  an offense under the laws of another state that prohibit the operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated.

(g)  A conviction may be used for purposes of enhancement under this section or enhancement under Subchapter D, Chapter 12, but not under both this section and Subchapter D.
 
(h)  This subsection applies only to a person convicted of a second or subsequent offense relating to the operating of a motor vehicle while intoxicated committed within five years of the date on which the most recent preceding offense was committed.  The court shall enter an order that requires the defendant to have a device installed, on each motor vehicle owned or operated by the defendant, that uses a deep-lung breath analysis mechanism to make impractical the operation of the motor vehicle if ethyl alcohol is detected in the breath of the operator, and that requires that before the first anniversary of the ending date of the period of license suspension under Section 521.344, Transportation Code, the defendant not operate any motor vehicle that is not equipped with that device.  The court shall require the defendant to obtain the device at the defendant's own cost on or before that ending date, require the defendant to provide evidence to the court on or before that ending date that the device has been installed on each appropriate vehicle, and order the device to remain installed on each vehicle until the first anniversary of that ending date.  If the court determines the offender is unable to pay for the device, the court may impose a reasonable payment schedule not to extend beyond the first anniversary of the date of installation.  The Department of Public Safety shall approve devices for use under this subsection....Failure to comply with an order entered under this subsection is punishable by contempt....
Last amended 2015

Sec. 724.012:  Taking of Specimen (Transportation Code)


  (a) One or more specimens of a person's breath or blood may be taken if the person is arrested and at the request of a peace officer having reasonable grounds to believe the person:

     (1) while intoxicated was operating a motor vehicle in a public place...

  (b)  A peace officer shall require the taking of a specimen of the person's breath or blood under any of the following circumstances if the officer arrests the person for an offense under Chapter 49, Penal Code, involving the operation of a motor vehicle...and the person refuses the officer's request to submit to the taking of a specimen voluntarily:

(1)  the person was the operator of a motor vehicle...involved in an accident that the officer reasonably believes occurred as a result of the offense and, at the time of the arrest, the officer reasonably believes that as a direct result of the accident:
(A)  any individual has died or will die;
(B)  an individual other than the person has suffered serious bodily injury; or
(C)  an individual other than the person has suffered bodily injury and been transported to a hospital or other medical facility for medical treatment;
(2)  the offense for which the officer arrests the person is an offense under Section 49.045, Penal Code; or
(3)  at the time of the arrest, the officer possesses or receives reliable information from a credible source that the person:
(A)  has been previously convicted of or placed on community supervision for an offense under Section 49.045, 49.07, or 49.08, Penal Code, or an offense under the laws of another state containing elements substantially similar to the elements of an offense under those sections; or
(B)  on two or more occasions, has been previously convicted of or placed on community supervision for an offense under Section 49.04, 49.05, 49.06, or 49.065, Penal Code, or an offense under the laws of another state containing elements substantially similar to the elements of an offense under those sections.
(c)  The peace officer shall designate the type of specimen to be taken.
(d)  In this section, "bodily injury" and "serious bodily injury" have the meanings assigned by Section 1.07, Penal Code.

Last amended 2009

Sec. 524.011:  Officer's Duties for Driver's License Suspension (Transportation Code)


(a)  An officer arresting a person shall comply with Subsection (b) if:
(1)  the person is arrested for an offense under Section 49.04, 49.045, or 49.06, Penal Code, or an offense under Section 49.07 or 49.08 of that code involving the operation of a motor vehicle..., submits to the taking of a specimen of breath or blood and an analysis of the specimen shows the person had an alcohol concentration of a level specified by Section 49.01(2)(B), Penal Code; or
(2)  the person is a minor arrested for an offense under Section 106.041, Alcoholic Beverage Code, or Section 49.04, 49.045, or 49.06, Penal Code, or an offense under Section 49.07 or 49.08, Penal Code, involving the operation of a motor vehicle...and:
(A)  the minor is not requested to submit to the taking of a specimen; or
(B)  the minor submits to the taking of a specimen and an analysis of the specimen shows that the minor had an alcohol concentration of greater than.00 but less than the level specified by Section 49.01(2)(B), Penal Code.
(b)  A peace officer shall:
(1)  serve or, if a specimen is taken and the analysis of the specimen is not returned to the arresting officer before the person is admitted to bail, released from custody, delivered as provided by Title 3, Family Code, or committed to jail, attempt to serve notice of driver's license suspension by delivering the notice to the arrested person;
(2)  take possession of any driver's license issued by this state and held by the person arrested;
(3)  issue a temporary driving permit to the person unless department records show or the officer otherwise determines that the person does not hold a driver's license to operate a motor vehicle in this state;  and
(4)  send to the department not later than the fifth business day after the date of the arrest:
(A)  a copy of the driver's license suspension notice;
(B)  any driver's license taken by the officer under this subsection;
(C)  a copy of any temporary driving permit issued under this subsection;  and
(D)  a sworn report of information relevant to the arrest.
(f)  A temporary driving permit issued under this section expires on the 41st day after the date of issuance.  If the person was driving a commercial motor vehicle, as defined by Section 522.003, a temporary driving permit that authorizes the person to drive a commercial motor vehicle is not effective until 24 hours after the time of arrest.

Last amended 2009

Sec. 524.012. Department's Determination for Driver's License Suspension (Transportation Code)


(a)  On receipt of a report under Section 524.011, if the officer did not serve a notice of suspension of driver's license at the time the results of the analysis of a breath or blood specimen were obtained, the department shall determine from the information in the report whether to suspend the person's driver's license.

(b)  The department shall suspend the person's driver's license if the department determines that:
(1)  the person had an alcohol concentration of a level specified by Section 49.01(2)(B), Penal Code, while operating a motor vehicle in a public place...; or
(2)  the person was a minor on the date that the breath or blood specimen was obtained and had any detectable amount of alcohol in the minor's system while operating a motor vehicle in a public place....

(c)  The department may not suspend a person's driver's license if:
(1)  the person is an adult and the analysis of the person's breath or blood specimen determined that the person had an alcohol concentration of a level below that specified by Section 49.01(2)(B), Penal Code, at the time the specimen was taken;  or
(2)  the person is a minor and the department does not determine that the minor had any detectable amount of alcohol in the minor's system when the minor was arrested.
(d)  A determination under this section is final unless a hearing is requested under Section 524.031.
(e)  A determination under this section:
(1)  is a civil matter;
(2)  is independent of and is not an estoppel to any matter in issue in an adjudication of a criminal charge arising from the occurrence that is the basis for the suspension;  and
(3)  does not preclude litigation of the same or similar facts in a criminal prosecution.

Last amended 2009

Sec. 524.022. Period of Suspension (Transportation Code)

Note: A loophole lets people with suspended licenses drive anyway in many cases.  See the Statesman article.

(a)  A period of suspension under this chapter for an adult is:
(1)  90 days if the person's driving record shows no alcohol-related or drug-related enforcement contact during the 10 years preceding the date of the person's arrest;  or
(2)  one year if the person's driving record shows one or more alcohol-related or drug-related enforcement contacts during the 10 years preceding the date of the person's arrest.
(b)  A period of suspension under this chapter for a minor is:
(1)  60 days if the minor has not been previously convicted of an offense under Section 106.041, Alcoholic Beverage Code, or Section 49.04, 49.045, or 49.06, Penal Code, or an offense under Section 49.07 or 49.08, Penal Code, involving the operation of a motor vehicle or a watercraft;
(2)  120 days if the minor has been previously convicted once of an offense listed by Subdivision (1); or
(3)  180 days if the minor has been previously convicted twice or more of an offense listed by Subdivision (1).
(d)  A minor whose driver's license is suspended under this chapter is not eligible for an occupational license under Subchapter L, Chapter 521, for:
(1)  the first 30 days of a suspension under Subsection (b)(1);
(2)  the first 90 days of a suspension under Subsection (b)(2);  or
(3)  the entire period of a suspension under Subsection (b)(3).

Last amended 2009

Driving without a license

Sec. 521.021.  License Required.  A person, other than a person expressly exempted under this chapter, may not operate a motor vehicle on a highway in this state unless the person holds a driver's license issued under this chapter.

Last amended 1995

[Note: There is no penalty listed for violating Sec. 521.021, License Required (i.e., driving without a license), which is confusing to me.  Blogs by attorneys I found suggest that the penalty is the same as Sec. 521.025, below.]


Sec. 521.025.  License to be Carried and Exhibited on Demand; Criminal Penalty

(a)  A person required to hold a license under Section 521.021 shall:

(1)  have in the person's possession while operating a motor vehicle the class of driver's license appropriate for the type of vehicle operated;  and
(2)  display the license on the demand of a magistrate, court officer, or peace officer.

(b)  A peace officer may stop and detain a person operating a motor vehicle to determine if the person has a driver's license as required by this section.

(c)  A person who violates this section commits an offense.  An offense under this subsection is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $200, except that:

(1)  for a second conviction within one year after the date of the first conviction, the offense is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not less than $25 or more than $200;

(2)  for a third or subsequent conviction within one year after the date of the second conviction the offense is a misdemeanor punishable by:

(A)  a fine of not less than $25 or more than $500;
(B)  confinement in the county jail for not less than 72 hours or more than six months; or
(C)  both the fine and confinement; and

(3)  if it is shown on the trial of the offense that at the time of the offense the person was operating the motor vehicle in violation of Section 601.191 and caused or was at fault in a motor vehicle accident that resulted in serious bodily injury to or the death of another person, an offense under this section is a Class A misdemeanor.

(d)  It is a defense to prosecution under this section if the person charged produces in court a driver's license:

(1)  issued to that person;
(2)  appropriate for the type of vehicle operated;  and
(3)  valid at the time of the arrest for the offense.


Penalties for breaking Texas laws

Explanation of penalties:

Penalties according to the level of crime:

Example crimes:

[back to list of TX laws]