A Look Ahead to the Texas Legislative Session—Transportation Bills
By: Amy Agnew
In anticipation of the next legislative session, some Texas lawmakers are pre-filing proposed legislation, including legislation affecting the transportation industry. Following are a few examples of the proposed legislation.
Senate Bill 42
Proposed Senate Bill 42 amends legislation regarding the use of a wireless communication device while operating a vehicle. It adds additional definitions, removes language about electronic messages, and revises the affirmative defense under Section 545.4251 of the Texas Transportation Code.
First, it proposes to amend Section 545.4251(a) of the Texas Transportation Code to include a definition for a hands-free device to state a “speakerphone capability, a telephone attachment, or another function or other piece of equipment, regardless of whether permanently installed in or on a wireless communication device or in a motor vehicle, that allows use of the wireless communication device without use of either of the operator’s hands, except to activate or deactivate a function of the wireless communication device or hands-free device with a swipe or tap of the driver’s finger. The term includes voice-operated technology and a push-to-talk function.” It deletes the existing language regarding electronic messages. This bill also adds language to the definition of a wireless communication device.
Second, for Section 545.4251(b), this proposed legislation adds that an operator commits an offense if the operator uses a portable wireless communications device while operating a motor vehicle unless the vehicle is stopped “outside a lane of travel.” It also amends and withdraws language regarding the affirmative defense under Section 545.4251(c); the amended version would state “it is an affirmative defense to prosecution of an offense under this section that the operator used a portable wireless communication device: (1) in conjunction with a hands-free device.” It also adds that “the affirmative defense in subsection (c)(1) is not available for an offense under Subsection (b) committed by a person under 18 years of age or by a person operating a school bus with minor passenger on the bus.”
Third, another proposed addition is to Section 545.4251(d)(2). It states that Section 545.4251(b) does not does not apply to an operator of a commercial motor vehicle, other than a school bus with a minor passenger on the bus, who uses a portable wireless communication device while acting in the scope of the operator’s employment and the use is allowed under federal motor carrier safety regulations, as defined by Section 644.001.
Proposed Senate Bill 42 also amends Section 545.4251(h) regarding posting signs about the use of portable wireless communication devices and revises (j) about this section preempting local ordinances.
Along with the additions to Section 545.4251 of the Texas Transportation Code, this legislation also proposes adding to Section 543.004(a)(1)(B)—that the use of a wireless communication device under Section 545.4251 is punishable by a fine only.
Senate Bill 221
Proposed Senate Bill 221 amends Section 545.352(b) of the Texas Transportation Code regarding the prima facie speed limit in certain urban districts. This proposed legislation adds Section 545.352(b)(7) regarding speed limits in a municipality with a population greater than 950,000. The suggested new speed limit for an urban district on a street other than an alley is 25 miles per hour and the suggested new speed limit for an alley is 15 miles per hour.
House Bill 75
Proposed House Bill 75 amends language to Section 644.101 of the Texas Transportation Code, regarding the certification of certain peace officers to enforce commercial motor vehicle safety standards in certain counties. Under this existing Section, municipal police officers, sheriffs, and deputy sheriffs can be certified to enforce commercial motor vehicle safety standards. This legislation proposes adding constables and deputy constables with the ability to be certified to enforce this section of the Texas Transportation Code.
Also, House Bill 75 clarifies the type of county this Section would apply to: the additional language states this applies to a county that is adjacent to a county with a population of 3.3 million or more; and in which a planned community is located that has 20,000 or more acres of land that is subject to restrictive covenants containing ad valorem or annual variable budget-based assessments on real property. It also amends Section 644.101(c) and Section 644.103(b) of the Texas Transportation Code.
House Bill 554
Proposed House Bill 554 proposes a new section to the Texas Transportation Code regarding the operation of a motor vehicle passing a pedestrian or a person operating a bicycle. Section 545.0571 would require an operator of a motor vehicle to use due to care to avoid colliding with a pedestrian or a bicyclist. It also proposes that a safe distance from a pedestrian or any part of the bicycle is at least three feet if the operator’s vehicle is a passenger car or a light truck, or at least six feet if the operator’s vehicle is a commercial motor vehicle as defined by Section 522.003 or a truck other than a light truck. A vehicle may safely pass under these conditions.
It also adds an affirmative defense to prosecution under this section that, at the time of the offense, the pedestrian or bicycle operator was acting in violation of a traffic law in a manner that contributed to an offense under Section 545.0571 of the Texas Transportation Code. It also amends Section 545.055 of the Texas Transportation Code to include that a driver is not prohibited from passing a pedestrian or a person operating a bicycle in a no-passing zone if the operator of the motor vehicle otherwise complies with the requirements of Chapter 545 of the Texas Transportation Code.