Texas laws promoting safety take effect Sept. 1

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 8/23/2013

Texas lawmakers this year approved multiple bills that are supposed to help improve safety on the state’s roadways and simplify providing proof of vehicle insurance. The changes take effect Sept. 1.

One new law is intended to encourage drivers to stop and try to help at an accident scene.

Supporters say that alcohol often is a factor in people leaving the scene of an accident to avoid drunken driving related charges. They note that stopping to help someone who is injured could be the difference between life and death.

SB275 authorizes more time behind bars for people who fail to stop and render aid at the scene of a wreck that they cause that may have resulted in injury.

Texas law now authorizes up to 10 years in prison for hit-and-run offenders. The new law doubles the prison time for anyone found in violation to as long as 20 years.

The 20-year prison term is on par with the penalty for intoxicated manslaughter.

Critics say the punishment may not have the effect hoped for by lawmakers. They say that the decision to leave the scene of an accident is motivated more by panic than logic.

State reports show that 296 arrests were made in fiscal year 2012 for failure to stop and render aid at accident scenes involving injury or death. Only eight were sentenced to at least 10 years in prison.

Another new law adds another type of vehicle to be protected in the state’s “move over” law.

Texas law requires vehicles approaching a stopped emergency vehicle with flashing lights to move into a lane away from the vehicle. If unable to change lanes, the driver is required to slow down to 20 mph below the posted speed. On roadways with speed limits of 25 mph or less, drivers must reduce their speed to 5 mph.

Violators face up to $2,000 fines. Further punishment is possible if injuries occur.

Vehicles protected in the rule include fire and police personnel, as well as ambulances and tow trucks.

The change adds state Department of Transportation workers and vehicles. Specifically, drivers will soon be required to move over or slow down when approaching TxDOT vehicles that are stopped with overhead flashing blue or yellow lights.

Also signed into law is a bill to simplify providing proof of vehicle insurance. No longer will drivers need to provide a paper copy of their insurance card to law enforcement officers.

SB181 authorizes drivers to provide an electronic copy of their insurance when prompted.

Texas is one of 27 states to adopt the policy, according to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. Seventeen states have approved electronic proof in 2013.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Texas, click here.

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