New Texas driving laws take effect Sept. 1

| Monday, August 31, 2009

Driving in Texas could be a bit different the first of the month. Along with the end of an old idling exemption for sleeper berths, there are several new rules of interest that take effect Tuesday, Sept. 1. They include allowing police to order blood tests without getting search warrants in some cases, stiffer penalties for driving without permission, and young driver restrictions.

One new law changes how law enforcement officers draw blood from suspected drunken drivers.

Existing Texas law mandates that blood be drawn of drivers involved in wrecks where there’s a death or serious bodily injury. Starting Tuesday, police will be allowed to order blood tests on some DWI suspects without getting a search warrant.

Officers will have the power to have blood drawn from those arrested under suspicion of drunken driving if someone has died or is badly injured, if a child under 15 is riding in the vehicle, or if the driver has prior DWI offenses.

Advocates say the change will speed up the process, which can take up to several hours, and shorten it to a matter of minutes. Opponents say it is unconstitutional to force someone to submit to a blood test if they are refusing to give it. They point out that some courts have ruled that citizens have a privacy interest in their bodies.

Two other rule changes enhance the punishments for driving without permission. Driving with a suspended license or without insurance will cost offenders up to 180 days in jail and fines up to $2,000. Driving without a valid license or uninsured and causing injury or death in a wreck could result in one year behind bars and a $4,000 fine.

Another new law includes several changes. One change no long requires those who own concealed handgun licenses to display them to police officers if they are pulled over. Previously, failure to display a CHL could result in license suspension.

Requirements for the state’s youngest drivers to obtain their license also are increasing. Anyone under age 18 must take the driving skills exam to receive a driver’s license. The new law also removes the requirement that provisional licenses or instruction permits be renewed annually and extends the phase-two restrictions of a graduated driver license from six months to one year.

Phase-two restrictions prohibit drivers from having more than one passenger under age 21 in the vehicle who is not a family member. Affected drivers also cannot operate a vehicle between midnight and 5 a.m. or use a wireless device for talking or texting.

A separate law taking effect requires all passengers of vehicles to wear seat belts regardless of where they are seated. Violators cannot be ticketed for the offense until June 1, 2010.

To read more about the end of the idling exemption and to view other Texas laws slated to take effect Sept. 1, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

Editor’s Note: Please share your thoughts with us about the legislation included in this story. Comments may be sent to statelegislativedesk@ooida.com.

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