They say everything is bigger in Texas, and speed limits are no exception. In fact, the fastest freeway in America — with a speed limit set at 85mph — is on a state highway between Austin and San Antonio.
Under state law, the maximum speed on Texas roadways is generally 70 mph, but the Texas Transportation Commission may set a speed limit of 75, 80, or even 85 mph if that speed is determined to be safe and reasonable after an engineering study, according to Texas Department of Transportation.
With such high speed limits, Texans aren’t afraid to put the pedal to the metal – and hundreds of drivers are ticketed each year for speeding. In 2017, the fastest ticketed driver — a motorcyclist — was clocked going 181mph in a 75mph zone through Coryell County which raises an interesting question: Can Texans’ lead foot land them behind bars?
The short answer: You can’t be arrested for “speeding,” but there are other offenses a driver could be charged with stemming from excessive speed. Speeding, itself, is one of three traffic offenses in Texas for which arrest in not permitted. Instead, officers make arrests for Racing on a Highway and Reckless Driving.
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Reckless driving is an offense under Texas Transportation Code. A broadly written statute, Section 545.401 of the Transportation Code makes it illegal to drive a vehicle “in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” Reckless Driving is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $200. Officers can and do make arrests for excessive or dangerous speeds under this statute.
Racing on a Highway
Texas Transportation Code 545.420 makes it an offense to race on a highway. This includes racing, drag racing, and testing the endurance of the driver.
Racing on a Highway is generally a Class B misdemeanor as long as the person had not been convicted of racing on a highway recently and the offense did not result in serious bodily injury. Racing on a Highway that results in Serious Bodily Injury or Death is considered a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Racing on a highway replaces state “exhibition of acceleration” offenses although there may be city ordinances for exhibition of acceleration. The Transportation Code no longer makes it illegal to peel out of a parking lot or stopped position, unless it is done so during a drag race.
Are High Speed Limits in Texas Safe?
According to the Texas Department of Transportation, all speed limits are set at the 85th percentile speed, based on an engineering principle. This means speed limits are set at the maximum safe speed that 85 percent of people drive at a given location, assuming that most drivers are reasonable, do not want to crash, and want to get to their destination as quickly as possible. Speed limits are set lower than the 85th percentile speed only on roads when there are significant safety issues, like curves, hidden driveways, and a history of serious crashes. According to engineers, following safety guidelines, these high speed limits are deemed safe in the state of Texas.
So, You Really Can’t Be Arrested for Speeding in Texas?
No, not if you’re a Texas resident and you sign your citation. According to the Texas Transportation Code 543.004(a) you can’t be arrested for speeding, having an open container of alcohol, or texting while driving. Outside of these three non-arrestable offenses, you may be arrested for any other traffic offense, including the absence of a license plate light, failure to display an inspection sticker, and tinted windows. A full list of offenses may be found here.
It’s interesting to note, however, that different rules apply to residents of another state or country traveling through Texas. In those scenarios, drivers may be arrested for speeding in Texas, according to Transportation code 543.004(b). An officer may also arrest any drivers who refuse to sign the citation for speeding, which is a promise to appear in court.
What is Reckless Driving?
Transportation code 545.401(a) defines reckless driving as a person operating a vehicle in a “willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.” Due to the fact that speed limits are set with the specific purpose of safety in mind — the 85th percentile rule — a speed excessive of that can be considered reckless in regards to safety. Many law enforcement agencies consider 20mph over the speed limit reckless driving if you follow the 85th percentile rule, which makes mathematical sense. Reckless driving is not only associated with high speeds. It can also be considered dangerous driving, or careless driving, by running red lights or stop signs, or driving under the influence, among other things.
Many incidents of this sort have been highly publicized in North Texas in recent years. In May 2014, a man was arrested for reckless driving causing serious bodily injury when he allegedly ran a red light and caused crashed into another vehicle, seriously injuring the passenger in the other vehicle, according to a story in the Dallas Morning News. In December of 2016, reckless driving contributed to a fatal accident in Denton. Two drivers were driving recklessly, “probably racing,” when they caused a third vehicle to lose control and drive into oncoming traffic, according to an article in the Star-Telegram. The driver of the third vehicle struck two cars and was fatally injured. Reckless driving is often intertwined with incidents of highway racing, which occur at high speeds.
What is Racing on a Highway?
Transportation code 545.420 prohibits racing on a highway, which is defined as
- a race;
- a vehicle speed competition or contest;
- a drag race or acceleration contest;
- a test of physical endurance of the operator of a vehicle; or
- in connection with a drag race, an exhibition of vehicle speed or acceleration or to make a vehicle speed record.
The code defines “drag race” as two or more vehicles side by side accelerating in a competitive attempt to outdistance each other, or vehicles going over a specific course to compare speed, power, or acceleration in a specific time or distance.
“Race” is defined as the use of one or more vehicles in an attempt to outgain or outdistance another vehicle or prevent another vehicle from passing; arrive at a given destination ahead of another vehicle or vehicles; or test the physical stamina or endurance of an operator over a long-distance driving route.
Dallas has a street racing problem in the city’s warehouse district. There is a quarter mile stretch of road notorious for illegal street racing, which police say inhibits the safety of the neighborhood. In early 2017, more than a dozen people were arrested – two on charges of reckless driving. In June of the same year, in the same district, five more people were arrested on charges of racing, and five vehicles were taken into custody.
If you or a loved one has been arrested for a speed-related incident in North Texas that lands you in jail, contact an experienced attorney at Varghese Summersett today for a free consultation. (We don’t handle traffic tickets.) During this call, we will:
- Discuss the facts of your case;
- Discuss the legal issues involved, including the direct and collateral consequences of the allegation; and
- Discuss the defenses that apply to your plan and in general terms discuss our approach to your case. Call: (817) 203-2220
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Also published on Medium.