Traffic Law

Student Legal Services provides advice and counseling on traffic tickets and accidents.

New Texas Traffic & Criminal Laws as of September 1, 2009

Find out more by visiting http://www.txdps.state.tx.us/director_staff/public_information/pr081109.pdf

Traffic Tickets

How to handle the ticket before the court date

  • By state law, you have at least 10 days to enter a written plea in court. The time limit is stated on the ticket. If you need more time, request an extension.
  • Do not loose or forget about your ticket.
  • If you neglect the ticket, you could be arrested later for Failure to Appear in court.

What if there is a mistake on the ticket?

If there is a mistake on the ticket, such as wrong license number, spelling of your name, your gender, the date, car make or year, the ticket can not be automatically dismissed. If numerous things are incorrect, you could plead not guilty and attend a trial. If the officer fails to identify you in court or if the jury believes that the officer made so many mistakes on the ticket that he must have been mistaken about the offense as well, then you may receive either a dismissal or an acquittal. Ask the court clerk for a copy of the complaint filed by the prosecutor. Errors made on the ticket could be corrected on the complaint.

Entering a plea in court

Pleas you may enter in court are Guilty, Not Guilty, and No Contest. No Contest or Nolo Contendere mean that you do not admit any guilt, but you do not want to contest the ticket by a trial. The fine is the same as entering a Guilty plea. Unless you plead Not Guilty, the No Contest plea should always be used when the ticket was due to an accident in order to avoid admission of fault for the accident with civil liability for monitary damages. 

Options in court

  1. Attend a defensive driving course. If you have not completed a course in the preceding 12 months, you may enroll after approval by the judge. The six hour class costs $25 or more. The ticket will be dismissed with no fine assessed. However, court costs are approximately $110 or more.

  2. Go to trial. You can represent your self pro se. Consider retaining an attorney. You can choose a trial by a judge or jury. Contact Student Legal Services for more information.

  3. Pay the ticket.  The violation will be noted on your driving record at the Department of Public Safety. Annual surcharges by the D.P.S. may apply.

Vehicle insurance

Being convicted for a traffic citation does not automatically increase your vehicle insurance premiums. If you pay several tickets in a twelve month period, the insurance company may refuse to renew your insurance. "Several" can mean any number greater than two. When initially applying for insurance, your record can be used to set the initial rate. The Department of Public Safety assigns drivers two (2) points for each traffic conviction.  Points acculumated by traffic ticket convictions remain on your driver's record for three years.  Drivers who acculumate a total of six (6) points in a given three year period will have to pay a surcharge of $100.00 annually.  Failure to pay this surcharge could result in your license being suspended.

What if I forgot to appear in court?

  • The court will issue an additional criminal charge for "failure to appear". A notice will be mailed to the address on your driver's license. This second charge is usually more expensive than the original traffic ticket.
  • If you fail to respond to the notice about the "failure to appear", the Judge then issues a warrant for your arrest. (Note: a "failure to appear" is not mandatory before a warrant can be issued.) A warrant issued on a ticket given in any Texas county can and will be served statewide. Tickets given in another state will not result in a warrant served in Texas. 

Bicycle Laws

Texas State traffic laws stipulates that bicyclists have all the rights and duties that apply to drivers of automobile vehicles. This includes stopping at signs and signals, yielding the right of way and obeying posted speed limits and one-way street signs.

No bicycle shall carry more persons at one time than the number for which it is designed.

A bicyclist moving below the speed of other traffic shall ride as near as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway, except when:

  • The person is overtaking and passing another vehicle going in the same direction;
  • The person is preparing to turn left at an intersection or onto a private road or driveway;
  • Conditions of the roadway, including fixed or moving objects or vehicles, pedestrians, animals, surface hazards or substandard lanes, make it unsafe to ride next to the right curb or edge of the roadway.
  • The person is operating a bicycle in an outside lane that is less than 14 feet in width and does not have a designated bicycle lane adjacent to that lane, or it is too narrow for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to safely travel side by side.

For night use, a bicycle shall have a lamp on the front with a white light visible from a stance of at least 500 feet to the front and with a red reflector on the rear that is of a type approved by the Department of Public Safety, and visible when directly in front of lawful upper beams of motor vehicle headlamps from all distances from 50 - 300 feet to the rear of the bicycle, or a lamp that emits a red light visible from a distance of 500 feet to the rear of the bicycle.

Traffic accidents

Two legal actions arise from a traffic accident. The first is receiving a traffic citation for violation of a certain criminal law. The second is financial liability for the personal and property damages incurred by innocent parties.

Tickets

At the scene of an accident, the police determine the immediate cause of the accident. The driver primarily at fault will be issued a citation. That party may not be solely responsible for all damages suffered. The other party may not be completely free of fault. The officer cites the main violator. For example, the other party was speeding when you ran a stop sign. The two infractions do not cancel each other out. By running the stop sign, you were the main cause of the accident and will be cited.

When a police officer does not issue a citation, it does not mean that no one was at fault. It could be that the fault was not sufficiently clear enough for a criminal charge to be filed with the court.

Measuring Damages

Your vehicle will be repaired at the body shop of your choice, unless the cost to do so is greater than the fair market value. Car values can be determined by using websites for that purpose.

If your vehicle is a total loss, the insurance company will purchase your vehicle to sell for scrap value.

Liability

The responsible party's insurance company will pay for damage and loss caused by their insured, including the following items:

  • Medical expenses
  • Property damage
  • Towing
  • Rental car or loss of use
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering

Determination of fault

More than one party may be at fault for an accident. The insurance company or the court will determine fault and liability. Receipt of a citation from the police is some indication of fault between parties. Police reports are helpful.

Rights and responsibilies of a party not at fault

  • Obtain an estimates of vehicle damage or provide the vehicle for inspection by the insurance adjustor. 
  • You can choose the body shop or mechanic for repairs to your vehicle.
  • The party at fault cannot require that you actually make the repair. However, it is not unheard of for an insurance company to insist on making the check out to the body shop. If you do not wish to repair the vehicle, you may file a lawsuit.
  • If you are dealing with an insurance company, the agent will want to record your version of the accident. Seek legal advice and have the facts clear before you talk.

General Traffic Rules:

  • The person making a left turn always yields unless there is a protecting arrow.
  • The person leaving a parking lot or driveway always yields to street traffic.
  • U-turns are illegal at an intersection controlled by a stop light that is posted with a sign making a U-turn prohibited at that particular intersection.
  • If you hit someone from the rear you will almost always be the one at fault for following too closely or failure to control speed, regardless of why the person in front of you stopped. This charge does not imply that you were driving in excess of the speed limit.
  • Backing cars always yield.
  • You always have the duty to avoid an accident. Take appropriate safe evasive actions.

FREE LEGAL ADVICE for all Texas A&M Students. Protect Your Rights!

Contact Student Legal Services to schedule an appointment at your convenience for an attorney to review your documents and other evidence.

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