AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – While drivers in Texas tend to know the major rules of the road, the long and winding highways of history in the Lone Star State have also produced some lesser-known traffic laws – and a few notorious traffic myths.
Do horses need taillights, or is that a tall tale? Here is a look at a few lesser-known Texas traffic laws, as well as a few more rules that are more fiction than fun facts.
You don’t need a windshield in Texas, but you do need windshield wipers.
As noted in previous reports, it is illegal to drive without windshield wipers in Texas. According to the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Transportation Code, the windshield is not an item listed for vehicle inspections; however, windshield wipers are.
This note in the law can allow owners of vehicles designed without or with foldable windshields, such as certain Jeep models, to legally operate.
Your vehicle needs taillights – and so does your horse.
Although some claims have been made that this is a local law in Texarkana, it’s neither that specifically worded nor that specifically located.
The Texas Penal Code reads that “a person riding an animal on a roadway or operating a vehicle drawn by an animal on a roadway has the rights and duties applicable to the operator of a vehicle under this subtitle.” This means that vehicles, including those with literal horsepower, need to comply with as many of the safety requirements as physically possible.
For example, Texas DPS listed items needed on a passenger vehicle to be considered safe for the road, including:
- A horn
- Windshield wipers
- A mirror
- Seat Belts
- A braking system
- Tires and wheel assembly
- Exhaust and emissions systems
- Lights (beam indicators, stop lamps, license plate lamps, turn signals and headlights, etc.)
- Motor, Serial, or Vehicle Identification Number
Using that list, not only might a horse or a horse-drawn buggy need “tail” lights – but they may also need a horn, and maybe even a small mirror attached to a bridle. (And, for horses wearing goggles, possibly a very small, specific set of wipers.)
Adults can ride in the bed of a pickup truck, but nobody can ride in a trailer.
Although Texas law doesn’t forbid people over the age of 18 from riding in the open bed of a truck or trailer, drivers found with minors in the bed of a truck or a trailer can face a fine between $25 and $200.
There are some exceptions to the rule, including operating or towing a vehicle in a parade, a hayride, or an emergency, but allowing minors to ride in truck beds or trailers is against Texas law most of the time.
You can turn left on a red light, but only at certain intersections.
While many drivers in Texas already know that it is typically acceptable to make right turns from the rightmost lane during a red light, as long as it’s safe to do so, the Texas Transportation Code also allows for some left turns during red lights.
According to the law, Texas drivers are allowed to turn left at a red traffic light if:
- They have stopped at the intersection;
- They have yielded the right-of-way to pedestrians and other traffic; and
- If both intersecting streets are one-way streets.
This is also only allowed if there is no sign specifically prohibiting red-light turns at the intersection involved.
It is illegal to leave your car unattended without setting the parking brake and taking your keys.
Many drivers across Texas and the U.S. may start their cars and leave them to warm up as they prepare for their commutes on chilly mornings, or drop by a corner store on a scorching summer day and leave the air conditioner running while they grab a frosty beverage. Further, many drivers don’t tend to use the parking brake in their vehicles unless they’re parking on an incline.
However, in all of these situations, these drivers are technically breaking Texas law.
According to the Texas Transportation Code, a driver may not leave their vehicle unattended without:
- Stopping the engine;
- Locking the ignition;
- Removing the key from the ignition;
- Setting the parking brake; and
- If standing on a grade, turning the front wheels to the curb or side of the road.
The ignition requirements of that code only have exceptions for drivers who start the engine of their vehicle through a remote starter that requires the key to be physically present in the vehicle before it can be operated.
If you pay for a ticket, you’re guilty.
According to Texas law, as noted by the Texas Young Lawyers Association and State Bar of Texas and court information from Travis County, paying for a traffic ticket in Texas is most often considered a plea of “guilty” or “no contest” and a waiver of the right to a trial. The difference between the two is that a “no contest” plea and conviction cannot be used against the driver in a civil suit later.
However, the TYLA also noted that a driver signing a ticket when they first receive it is not the same as admitting guilt. A ticket given during a traffic stop is considered an allegation that a traffic offense happened, but drivers still have the right to court proceedings and to file a “not guilty” plea.
Is it illegal to be “within an arm’s length” of alcohol while driving in Lubbock?Sort of. And not only in Lubbock.
Numerous websites, blogs, books, and listicles have claimed that the strangest traffic law in Texas can be found in Lubbock, with a rule that bans drivers from being “within an arm’s length” of alcohol – including alcohol already in someone else’s bloodstream.
While it would definitely be a contender for one of Texas’ strangest local laws, as of 2023 it doesn’t seem that this rule has ever been in place. After numerous calls to county and state law libraries, the Lubbock County court system, the City of Lubbock, the Lubbock Police Department, and scouring the city codes, no official nor document from the area has known about or referenced any similar law to the one so often casually referenced.
Actually, Lubbock-area officials are more likely to be just as baffled at the idea as any internet audience, let alone confused about how that story could’ve started in the first place.
However, that doesn’t mean that Lubbock – and the Lone Star State – doesn’t have restrictions on alcohol in vehicles.
Texas state law prohibits driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and also bans the possession of open containers of alcohol in vehicles in most circumstances.
Texas law specifically prohibits open containers of alcohol in the “passenger area of a motor vehicle” on public highways, which includes the driver’s and front passenger’s seats; otherwise known as the area of the vehicle most likely within an arm’s reach of the driver.
Texas doesn’t ban U-Turns or “For Sale” signs, but your city might.
Similar to the “no alcohol within arm’s length” law, another set of Texas laws that have gained notoriety online are the alleged rules in Richardson banning two common roadway sights: U-turns and “For Sale” signs. However, once again the common thought is neither totally true nor totally local.
Scouring through the Richardson Code of Ordinances, there does not seem to be a rule prohibiting drivers from performing U-turns. However, the city does restrict leaving vehicles or other property with “For Sale” signs attached around public property.
Texas law only specifically cites U-turns once in the Transportation Code, to say that drivers cannot perform U-turns when approaching a curve or the crest of a grade if there is not 500 feet of visibility to traffic on either side. Otherwise, Texas law tends to expect U-turns to follow the same precautions and guidelines as any other turn and take traffic, right-of-way, signs on the road, and other conditions into account before turning.
While Richardson doesn’t specifically seem to have a U-turn ban, other cities in Texas do. Some have restrictions on U-turns within business districts or on particular streets and intersections. Although many of these local restrictions and guidelines are marked with signs where they apply, not all of them are. It may be wise for drivers to check the ordinances of the cities they drive in most often to know for sure, and otherwise be mindful of road signs and conditions.
In the same vein as the U-turn rules, cities around Texas tend to vary on whether or not “For Sale” signs can be attached to vehicles in their roadways. Texas state law prohibits placing most political and commercial signs on public property and in the right-of-way without a permit, as well as restricts where vehicles can park, but doesn’t necessarily speak on whether or not a person can legally have a “For Sale” sign on their vehicle.
Because of that, rules about “For Sale” signs on vehicles tend to fall on individual communities. Some communities allow them, while others more heavily restrict where “For Sale” signs on vehicles can be and when they can be visible, but it’s up to individual drivers to check with their local rules.