The state of Texas operates a system of graduated driving privileges, which means that teen drivers get more freedom the older they become. This allows under 18s to get experience behind the wheel in stages while helping to limit crashes and encourage safe driving. All drivers are subject to curfews and passenger limitations until they reach the age of 18.
Texas under 18s cannot drive between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m., except in an emergency or to participate in school-related activities.
Texas Graduated License Program
Texas operates a two-stage system for licensing its teenage drivers. Anyone over the age 15 who meets the qualifying conditions can apply for an "Instruction Permit." This authorizes the teenager to practice driving while accompanied by a licensed adult driver; the teen is not permitted to drive unaccompanied. Teen drivers must hold their learner permit for at least six months and pass their driving test before graduating to phase two – the "Provisional License."
Curfew and Other Restrictions
The holder of a provisional (or phase two) Texas driver's license may not drive between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m, except in the following situations:
- Medical emergencies
- For the purposes of employment
- To participate in a school-sanctioned activity
Additionally, provisionally licensed drivers are limited to driving with just one passenger under the age of 21 for the first 12 months after receiving the provisional license, unless the second passenger is an immediate family member. All provisional license holders under the age of 18 are prohibited from using their cellphone or wireless device in any way while driving.
From Provisional to Permanent License
Provisional licenses expire when the driver reaches the age of 18, or the next birthday after the license is issued, whichever is later. At that time, the word "Provisional" is removed from the license, and the teen driver can enjoy full, unrestricted driving privileges.
Penalties for Violation
If caught violating the teen driving rules, a provisional license holder can be ticketed and fined, or have their license suspended. Teenage drivers who get a traffic ticket during phase one run the risk of having to spend more time with an Instruction Permit than originally planned. Texas also operates a Zero Tolerance law for minors. It is a criminal offense for an under 21 to have any detectable amount of alcohol in their system while operating a vehicle on a public street. Punishments include fines, license suspension and the requirement to attend alcohol education programs.
City Curfew Ordinances
Some cities operate more restrictive curfews for teenagers. Dallas, for example, prohibits under 17s from driving in a public place during school hours – 9 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on weekdays during the school semester – and also during the hours 11 p.m. and 6 a.m on weeknights or 12 a.m. and 6 a.m. on Saturday or Sunday nights. There are exceptions for running emergency errands, school or employment related activities, or if the teen's parent or responsible adult is a passenger in the car.