Is Texas Too Easy on Reckless Drivers?

by Terry Bryant

Though Texas is known far and wide as a law-and-order state, there seems a disconnect when it comes to curbing speeding and reckless drivers, according to WalletHub, a social media company which periodically offers “snapshots” of consumer, financial, and government matters on its website. Its recent study found that Texas is the most lenient among all 50 states and the District of Columbia when it comes to passing laws against speeding and reckless driving and punishing those who violate those laws.

Delaware and Colorado are the toughest states on both dangerous driving groups, along with Oregon, the state which metes out the stiffest fines to repeat reckless drivers – $6,250, according to WalletHub. Arizona, New Mexico, and California stood just behind the top three strictest states. But bringing up the rear … let’s just say that if you’ve got a lead foot, Texas is the place to be. Our state comes in dead last at passing laws that punish both reckless drivers and speeders.

What separates last-place Texas from the top (or even the middle) of this list?

  1. Texas doesn’t define reckless driving by an arbitrary miles per hour benchmark. Our neighbors in Arkansas and Louisiana have a law which clearly states that if a motorist is traveling 15 mph over the posted speed limit, that’s reckless driving.
  2. There is no state law in Texas which prohibits racing on the roads, though many cities have ordinances which ban this dangerous practice.
  3. There is no state program which deploys speed cameras for automatic enforcement. Again, however, some cities have ordinances permitting such enforcement – even though there are open legal challenges to these cameras.
  4. Texas does not require minimum jail time or license suspension for first-time reckless drivers, though there is “judicial discretion” when it comes to minimum jail time for drivers whose speed exceeds certain thresholds, another glaring ambiguity.
  5. Texas does not fine motorists as much as other states do.

Reckless drivers in Texas can be charged as a result of excessive speed, such as 81 mph or faster in a 65 mph zone, or 20 mph faster than the speed limit in any zone. But as you can see, there’s little clarity in establishing enforceable guidelines for what speeds do and do not constitute reckless driving.

In Texas, reckless driving is viewed as a criminal offense, not a lesser moving violation (traffic) offense. And though it’s a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine of up to $200 – at the judge’s discretion – if you plead guilty, you will lose your driver’s license for up to six months for a first offense. All of the states at the top of WalletHub’s list seriously criminalize reckless driving and excessive speed after the first offense.

Texas also has some of the highest speed limits in the country, with 85 mph posted on Texas Loop 130 between Austin and Seguin, and 80 mph posted on several hundred miles of Interstates 10 and 20 in sparsely inhabited western areas of the state.

WalletHub mainly conducts data analysis to provide consumers with information to make better financial decisions, spokeswoman Jill Gonzalez said. But she adds that its speeding and reckless driving analysis illustrates that we all need to pay greater attention to the cost of these dangerous road behaviors.

“We saw the annual economic cost to society because of speed limit crashes is over $40 billion,” she said, while also noting that the cost includes property damage and medical bills associated with speeding and reckless driving accidents. There’s even more fallout from these driving acts: “For every five miles above 60 mph, the cost is 7% more for gasoline.”

If you’ve been injured in an accident with a negligent speeder or reckless driver, you should speak with a seasoned injury lawyer before dealing with their insurance company. Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law is available anytime, day or night. Call us or fill out our contact form on this web page to schedule a free consultation.