Financial responsibility law
Drivers in Texas are expected to be able to pay for damages caused to persons or property as a result of an accident, and while it’s possible to provide for financial coverage by means of a surety bond, or depositing $55,000 with either the state Comptroller or one’s local county judge, it’s much more common for drivers to maintain liability insurance. The minimum limits for this are $30,000 for each injured person, $60,000 for injuries per incident, and $25,000 for property damage. These are the only required areas of coverage, unless one’s vehicle is still being financed or being leased, in which case one is also required to possess comprehensive and collision coverage. Optional insurance would include towing and labor, and coverage to protect a driver in the event that the other person involved in an accident is uninsured or underinsured. Unfortunately, this has been an area of great concern. Despite it being a violation of law, at present a shocking 20% of drivers in Texas fall into the uninsured/underinsured category. Even though it’s optional to possess uninsured/underinsured coverage, the more responsible 80% of Texas drivers are paying 1 billion dollars a year to protect themselves from that 1 in 5 uninsured vehicle. The problem is more prevalent in southern Texas, with Cameron County showing 22% of vehicles being uninsured.
Dealing with the uninsured
In June 2008, a new program dubbed TexasSure was unveiled to address the problem of the uninsured driver. TexasSure came into being when the Texas Legislature gathered a quartet of state agencies — the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Department of Insurance, the Department of Public Safety, and the Department of Information Resources — to create a vehicle verification database that could be accessed by both law enforcement and tax collectors. Through the TexasSure database, a vehicle can be matched to its license plate number, Vehicle Identification Number, and insurance policy to determine if the car’s owner has obtained liability insurance. In its efforts to cut down on uninsured drivers identified through the database, it’s been reported that in 2012 the Texas Department of Insurance was mailing 25,000 notices a week to drivers found to be in violation. Such individuals risk a fine of up to $350 for a first offense, and up to $1,000 for a second, with the potential to have one’s license suspended. But even with these measures in place, it appears that there’s still a long way to go to rein in the number of uninsured Texans behind the wheel.
Driving safety laws
The sea belt law in Texas mandates that driving without a seat belt can result in a fine up to $200, while a passenger’s failure to wear a seat belt can result in both that person and the driver being fined. A fine ranging from $25 – $200 will also be incurred for children under the age of 18 riding in a pickup truck’s open bed. When it comes to child seats, newborns through 1 year olds must be secured in a rear-facing car seat, while children from 1 to 4 years old can be secured in a forward-facing seat. Children aged 4 to 8 can use a booster seat, and after the age of 8 a child can make use of the car’s own seats.
A whopping 44 states prohibit the use of a cell phone while driving, but Texas is one of the exceptions. Here, it is permissible if one is over the age of 18 and not operating their vehicle in a school zone, though the law can vary according to city or county.
A Driving While Intoxicated/Driving Under the Influence conviction in Texas can result in such penalties as fines, having one’s license suspended or revoked, a surcharge of $1,000 for 3 years ($2,000 if the BAC is greater than 0.16%), and mandatory imprisonment that can range from the minimum 3 days on up to 180 days, just for a first offense. A first offense for DWI/DUI if one is under 21 can result in suspension of one’s license for 2 years and a $500 fine. If a child under 15 is present in the car during a DWI/DUI incident, the driver might find himself incarcerated for as long as 2 years. The BAC, or Blood Alcohol Concentration, that can result in a charge of DWI is 0.08% in an adult over 21, but for a driver under 21, any amount detected is sufficient. An open container of alcohol can net one up to a $500 fine, but an open container found while the driver is determined to be intoxicated can also lead to at least 6 days behind bars. Tragically, every 20 minutes someone in Texas is injured or killed due to an intoxicated driver.
In 2010, the average cost of car insurance in the USA was $907.38. In Texas in the same year, car insurance averaged $1,620, or $135 monthly. The rate of one’s premium will be affected by many factors, which can include one’s age, credit score, whether one has a good or poor driving record, whether one has driven without a license for over 30 days within the past 12 months, where one’s car is stored (urban areas increase the risk of theft and accidents), the type of vehicle, and even whether the driver is married, as it seems that unmarried women under 21 face the highest rates, along with men under the age of 25. If two companies have declined to sell you an insurance policy, you are qualified to seek assistance from TAIPA — the Texas Automobile Insurance Protection Association, though TAIPA doesn’t offer collision or comprehensive coverage. Depending on the individual company, discounts might be available for having two vehicles on one policy, or a homeowner’s policy with the same insurance company. Discounts on insurance rates might also be possible for having such auto safety features as antilock brakes, airbags, automatic seatbelts, and anti-theft devices. Conversely, high-risk drivers can face surcharges for having had such vehicle safety violations as past accidents, speeding tickets, driving without a license, and DUI convictions.