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Texas Transportation Update: New Class C Misdemeanor and Potential Upgrade to a Class B Misdemeanor

By: Amy Agnew

The 86th Texas Legislature passed several new transportation-related laws that took effect on September 1, 2019.  Specifically, House Bill 799 added a Class C Misdemeanor offense for damage to a bridge, underpass, or similar structure caused by the height of a vehicle, as well as the potential upgrade to a Class B Misdemeanor.

First, House Bill 799 amends Section 621.207(c) of the Transportation Code to make the owner of a vehicle strictly liable for any damage to a bridge, underpass, or similar structure caused by the height of the vehicle.  The statute contains a few exceptions; an owner will not be strictly liable for the damage if the:

(1) vehicle was stolen;

(2) the vertical clearance of the structure was less than the posted structure;

(3) the vehicle was being operated under the immediate direction of a law enforcement agency; or

(4) the vehicle was being operated in compliance with a permit authorizing the movement of the vehicle was being operated in compliance with a permit authorizing the movement of the vehicle issued by the department.

In addition to being strictly liable for the damage, this bill amends Section 621.504 of the Transportation Code by making it a Class C Misdemeanor for a person to operate or attempt to operate a vehicle “over or on a bridge or through an underpass or similar structure unless the height of the vehicle, including load, is less than the vertical clearance of the structure as shown by the records of the Texas Department of Transportation.”

This offense becomes a Class B Misdemeanor if it is shown on the trial of an offense under this section that the person was not in compliance with all applicable license and permit requirements for the operation of the vehicle.  If an offense is found to be a Class B Misdemeanor, it is punishable by:

(1) a fine not to exceed $500;

(2) confinement in county jail for a term not to exceed 30 days; or

(3) both the fine and the confinement.

However, a few affirmative defenses can be asserted, including: 

(1) the vertical clearance of the structure was less than that posted on the structure;

(2) the vehicle was being operated under the immediate direction of a law enforcement agency; or

(3) the vehicle was being operated in compliance with a permit authorizing the movement of the vehicle issued by the department of a political subdivision of this state.

In practical application, to avoid the offense, the owner should ensure the height of the vehicle being operated is set below the Texas Department of Transportation’s vertical clearances for its bridges and overpasses.  Additionally, the owner can plan ahead regarding the route, as the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles lists the districts where structures with low vertical clearances are located.  It can be found at: https://www.txdmv.gov/motorcarriers/low-clearance.


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