Texas Car Licensing and Registration Guide

June 11, 2014

Austin TexasTo operate a motor vehicle in Texas, you must be licensed and insured.  There are specific procedures and laws for meeting all of the requirements, which are outlined below.

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Texas License Requirements

For a Texas driver’s license, applicants must present documents that verify identity, Social Security Number, U.S. citizenship or lawful presence status, as well as Texas residency. You must also show proof of vehicle registration and liability insurance for all vehicles registered in your name.  Finally, you have to pass the road knowledge and driving tests.

Drivers under the age of 18 have a system of graduated steps on their way to full licensure.  If you are under 15 and can demonstrate a pressing need (due to economic hardship, illness or death in the family, or a requirement for a vocational educational program), you can receive a Minor’s Restricted Driver’s License.  At 15, a minor can acquire a learner’s license with parental permission, verification of enrollment in or graduation from school, and proof of completion of a driver’s education course.  After six months with a learner license, the teen can apply for a provisional license, which is valid until he turns 18.

Texas also offers commercial, hazardous materials, and motorcycle licenses.  The Texas Department of Public Safety has more information about these licenses.

Keeping Your Texas License

State laws vary widely when it comes to highway safety.  Below are the basic laws, but be sure to check the relevant statutes in any state you plan to be driving in for the most up-to-date information.

Texas Seat Belt Laws

Texas imposes primary liability for seat belt violations, meaning an officer can pull you over if the only thing you’re doing wrong is not wearing your seatbelt. The ticket will run you an even $200.  Every time.  Passengers under 17 (or 18 if it’s in the bed of a pickup) may cost the driver an additional fine up to $200, and a passenger over 15 without a seatbelt is personally responsible for fines up to $50.

Texas Distracted Driving Laws

In Texas, they frown on using a wireless communication device (any gadget that operates on a commercial network) while operating a bus with a minor passenger, or if you’re under 18.  Furthermore, it is illegal to use a wireless communication device while in a school zone, unless it’s a hands-free device.  Tickets for these infractions cost $50.

Texas gets criticism for being far more lax in its distracted driving laws than other states; pretty much anything you want to do with your phone in your car is fair game.

Texas Negligence Standards

Texas applies modified comparative negligence in car accident cases.  This standard requires either the judge or the jury to determine to what extent both parties were negligent.  In Texas, you, the plaintiff, are entitled to recovery only so long as you were less than 50% responsible for the accident.

In any modified comparative negligence jurisdiction, the amount of damages you can recover as the plaintiff varies depending on the amount of responsibility you bear.  For example, if the jury believes you were only 5% negligent because of your speeding, you will recover more than if the jury thinks your speed amounted to 35% of the fault.

Texas Driver Safety Facts

The Texas Department of Transportation releases a yearly report which summarizes the state’s rate of highway accidents, citations, and fatalities.  This report offers some interesting and potentially useful information, and highlights the importance of having up-to-date and comprehensive car insurance. Some interesting facts included in this data:

  • Texas saw an 10.82 percent increase in highway fatalities in 2012, from 3,067 to 3,399.
  • Not one day passed in 2012 without a road fatality in Texas.
  • In incidents in which seatbelt use was known, 45.4 percent of persons killed were reported as unrestrained when the crash occurred.
  • DUI/alcohol-related crashes were reported more often during 2:00 a.m. and 2:59 a.m. than any other hour of the day.  Additionally, more of these crashes occurred on Sunday than another day of the week.

Texas Driver Resources

Automobile Insurance Made Easy, published by the Texas Department of Insurance, is an informative yet basic guide to state requirements.

The Texas Auto Insurance Plan Association may be able to help you out if you’re been rejected by at least two insurance companies due to a spotty driving record.

You can get information on Texas driver’s licenses from the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Better Business Bureau websites for Houston, Dallas, and Austin allow consumers to file a report if they feel their insurance company is acting unfairly.

Texas Car Facts

  • Toyota and General Motors both operate manufacturing plants in Texas.
  • The Discovery Channel program Texas Car Wars follows four Texas body shops that buy and fix wrecked classic cars and turns them into collectibles.
  • The Texas Raceway in Kennedale is called “the fastest little drag strip in Texas.”
  • Several rare and historic cars can be seen at San Antonio’s Texas Transportation Museum.
  • The most commonly stolen vehicles in Texas in 2012 were Ford, Chevrolet, and Dodge pickup trucks.
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