Lawmakers Tweak Laws for Road Safety

Traffic cone next to the road
A traffic cone next to the road. | Image by Feng Cheng/Shutterstock

The recent legislative session brought about some minor changes to laws governing Texas roads in a bid to increase safety.

A series of bills relating to roadway safety passed both the House and Senate during the 88th legislative session.

While they don’t make any sweeping changes, the tweaks are expected to yield favorable results both on the roads and in future policy discussions.

Roadway safety has long been a concern in Texas, where high speeds, impaired driving, and distractions contribute to a persistently high number of fatalities.

Some activists have been pushing for reduced speed limits in Dallas, as The Dallas Express previously reported.

Dallas ranked second in traffic fatalities among the nation’s most populous cities between 2015 and 2019, while Fort Worth ranked fourth, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Here are some of the latest bills passed for improved road safety in Texas.

House Bill 2190

Sponsored by Rep. Terry Canales (D-Edinburg), HB2190 replaces the term “accident” with “collision” in the Texas Transportation Code.

As chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Canales put forward that the change in terminology would emphasize the fact that crashes are avoidable rather than just an inevitability.

Although a symbolic change, it might help shift the perception of roadway crashes both among lawmakers and drivers and encourage a more proactive engagement in improving roadway safety.

House Bill 1885

Another bill sponsored by Canales will allow the Texas Transportation Commission to establish variable speed limits in areas undergoing construction or experiencing inclement weather. They must be in line with recommendations made by engineers and traffic researchers.

With this law, local Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) officials will be able to lower speed limits up to 10 mph below the typical limit for a given roadway.

While the Texas Transportation Commission must approve the speed reductions, TxDOT will have more flexibility to respond quickly to changing roadway conditions.

House Bill 3126

Sponsored by Rep. Erin Gamez (D-Brownsville), HB3126 addresses the persistent issue of improper lane usage on Texas roads.

To eliminate driver confusion and facilitate enforcement of existing passing laws, the bill changes the definition of “passing” and “pass” in the Texas Transportation Code to include the requirement that the driver goes back to their original lane after overtaking another vehicle.

House Bill 3558 

HB3558 aims to reduce pedestrian-related accidents on Texas roadways.

Introduced by Rep. Mary Ann Perez (D-Pasadena), the bill eliminates contradictory language from previous bills by specifying where drivers must stop before reaching a crosswalk.

A driver must stop where there is a marked line for stopping or “stop before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection” if no line exists, the bill states.

Prosecutions of drivers involved in pedestrian accidents should be easier as a result of this change.

While the recent bills might seem like small changes, Jay Blazek Crossley told the Houston Chronicle that “some good things happened” this legislative session.

Crossley, who is the executive director of an Austin-based nonprofit for road safety called Farm & City, noted that in the past, state lawmakers tended to look at laws governing roadway safety as infantilizing.

“We are at a point where the Legislature is ready to do something,” Crossley told the Houston Chronicle.

In February, Gov. Greg Abbott announced a new 10-year statewide roadway construction plan with TxDOT that will dispense $100 billion of taxpayer money to improve transportation in the state, including roadway safety.

As The Dallas Express reported, the 2024 Unified Transportation Program will go towards new transportation projects, roadway maintenance, and safety upgrades.

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