New traffic laws now in effect

Driving-related legislation that took effect September 1, 2001:

•HB 5 makes it a Class C misdemeanor to have open containers of alcohol in the passenger compartment of a motor vehicle. The new law also increases penalties for repeat DWI offenders. If a second DWI conviction takes place within five years, there is an automatic one-year driver license suspension-and the driver must have an ignition interlock installed on their vehicle for the year following the suspension. During the suspension, the offender is not eligible for an occupational license.

•HB 63 increases the driver license suspension period for a person who refuses to take the breath test or fails the breath test—and requires the arresting officer to confiscate their driver license on the spot. The suspension periods and enhanced punishments for repeat offenders were also increased. For example, for a first offense, the suspension period for refusing a breath test will double from three months to six months. HB 63 also applies the Administrative License Revocation (ALR) laws to boating while intoxicated if the suspect refuses a breath test.

•SB 399 prohibits children under 18 from riding in the back of a pickup or flatbed truck. There are several notable exceptions, including if it is the only family vehicle or it is a government-sanctioned hayride. (The old law applied to children under 12 years of age, and only if the vehicle was traveling more than 35 miles per hour.

•SB 113, which:

•Requires children under age 4, or less than 36 inches, to be restrained in an approved car seat. (The old law required car seats for children under 2 years of age.)

•Requires all children ages 4 through 16 years old to use seat belts anywhere in the vehicle. (The old law only required seat belts for those 4 through 14 years old.)

•Specifies that all seat belt laws apply to trucks (including one-ton pickups).

•HB 1739 increases the minimum fines for violating the car seat law from $25 to $100. If a judge opts for probation, the offender would have to take a special TEA-approved child seat and seat belt education course.

•SB 215 and HB 2798 both increase the penalties for fleeing and evading arrest in a motor vehicle. A first offense is now a state jail felony as opposed to a Class A misdemeanor. (SB 215 also outlines provisions for testing suspects for communicable diseases if an officer is exposed to bodily fluids during certain arrests.)

•HB 299 authorizes the Texas Transportation Commission to establish a daytime speed limit of 75 miles per hour on highways located in counties with a population density of less than 10 persons per square mile.

•SB 968 establishes a six-month driver license suspension for a second conviction of gas theft. A photo of DPS Trooper Darryle Sparks will be posted on gas pumps throughout Texas to remind motorists of the new law and act as a deterrent.

•SB 214 abolishes the statute of limitations for leaving the scene of a fatal wreck.

•HB 2134 creates a specific offense for operating a motor vehicle emitting excessive smoke, visible for at least 10 seconds.

•HB 1544 makes it a Class B misdemeanor to directly solicit business or employment based on information derived from accident records or related records.

•The legal driving age in Texas remains 16. However, a graduated licensing bill (SB 577) goes into effect January 1, 2002.

•The texts of these bills can be found at . Select the enrolled version.