In this hurry-up world, it's the rare driver who manages to stay within the designated speed limits all of the time. Modern cars are quiet and fast, making it all too easy to speed, especially on long, flat highways in expansive states like Texas. But breaking the law is always a risk, and exceeding speed limit can have bad results, including getting a speeding ticket.
A Texas ticket for a speeding violation carries consequences ranging from traffic fines to jail time, plus a possible increase in auto insurance premiums. And the ticket isn't likely to disappear very fast.
Speed Laws and Speeding Tickets
There is no uniform speed limit law that applies across the nation. Rather, laws regulating driving speeds are left to states, and each state's laws are different. Anyone driving across the country will soon find out how different these laws can be.
Speed limit laws vary among the states, and even in one state, there are sure to be slower zones and faster zones. There are often different maximum speeds within one state for rural interstates and urban interstates, cars and trucks, two-lane roads and roads with multiple lanes, and school zones and construction zones. These often vary widely from the posted speed limits in neighboring states.
Many drivers do not realize that the numbers on the speed limit signs are only one part of the story. To complicate matters, speeding laws come in various "types." States have different types of speed laws, usually one of three basic types: absolute speed laws, basic speed laws and presumed speed laws.
Absolute, Basic and Presumed Speed Laws
The easiest type of speed law to understand is the absolute speed law. In states with absolute speed laws, there is no gray area. If the posted speed limit is 60 mph, anyone driving at 59 cannot get a speeding ticket; anyone driving at 61 mph can be hit with a moving violation.
Basic speed laws sound as if they would be more equitable, but they can be challenging for drivers to follow. In a basic speed law state, drivers are charged with driving at a safe speed for the conditions regardless of the posted speed limits.
If a police officer judges that a driver is going too fast given the current road conditions, they can issue a speeding ticket even if the vehicle's speed is well under the posted limit. Tickets can also be issued for driving slowly on a busy highway if the officer thinks the driver's speed is dangerously slow.
Presumed Speed Laws
It is important for Texas drivers to know that Texas speed laws are presumed laws. The presumed law category is a hybrid of absolute speed laws and basic speed laws.
States with presumed speed laws create a presumption that those going under the speed limit are driving safely, while those going over the speed limit are driving dangerously. The presumption can be rebutted by evidence.
A law enforcement officer can issue a speeding ticket for someone exceeding the posted limit, but the driver can avoid the ticket by showing that the speed was, in fact, safe.
Speed Statute in Texas
Texas speeding laws are set out in the state's Transportation Code Section 545.351, which says that "an operator may not drive at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the circumstances then existing."
The following section, Section 545.352, outlines the presumption system of law, stating that a speed in excess of the limits established by the law "is prima facie evidence that the speed is not reasonable and prudent."
Next, the statute sets out the prima facie speed limits, the top speeds presumed to be safe:
- 30 mph: urban street.
- 15 mph: urban alley.
- 70 mph: numbered highway outside an urban district.
- 60 mph: unnumbered highway outside an urban district with special rules for school buses.
- 15 mph: beaches.
- 15 mph: county road near a public beach.
Rebutting Prima Facie Evidence
The term prima facie means that the evidence (in this case, the fact of driving over the posted speed limit) is enough to establish that the speed is unreasonable if no opposing evidence is presented.
While exceeding these speeds is presumed to be unsafe, a driver is allowed to rebut the presumption by proving that their speed was safe given the existing weather, traffic and road conditions.
And, while traveling at or under the posted speed limits is presumed to be safe, the law mentions that if special hazards exist, a driver might need to travel under the speed limit to drive safely and legally in Texas.
Fines for Texas Speeding Tickets
Drivers have the option to contest a speeding ticket in court. One of the considerations before deciding to jump into a court fight is the penalty for speeding. In Texas, the amount of the fine for a speeding ticket depends on where the ticket was issued. For example, the speeding violation fines in the big cities in Texas are:
- Houston: Speeding fines range from $224 (1 to 5 mph over the speed limit) to $334 (more than 30 mph over the speed limit).
- Dallas: Speeding fines range from $201 (1 to 10 mph above the speed limit) to $304 (20 or more mph over the limit).
- Austin: Speeding ticket fines start at $10 per mile over the speed limit.
- San Antonio: Fines start at $185 for going 10 mph over the limit to $335 (more than 30 mph over the speed limit).
Repeal of the Driver Responsibility Program
In the past, under the Texas point system, also called the Texas Driver Responsibility Program, the state imposed additional fees on drivers who got many traffic tickets and on those with serious violations.
Additional fees and penalties were charged on top of the ticket fines. These surcharge amounts depended on the driver's record. However, as of 2019, the Driver Responsibility Program was repealed, and all DRP surcharge suspensions were lifted.
Other Consequences of Speeding Tickets in Texas
Speeding tickets have repercussions other than simple fines. Insurance companies can increase the rates for motorists with multiple tickets, and even one DWI/DUI speeding violation can result in the loss of car insurance.
Another possible consequence is the suspension of a license. Drivers convicted of traffic violations in Texas generally receive a certain number of points on their driving history records. Convictions of standard Texas traffic violations result in two demerit points, and offenses that result in a crash accrue three points.
Suspension of Driving Privileges
Anyone convicted of four or more traffic tickets in 12 months, or seven in 24 months, can have their driving privileges suspended.
Other violations can, in and of themselves, result in a license suspension, including:
- Causing an accident while being uninsured.
- Traffic violation involving drugs or alcohol.
- Reckless driving resulting in a fatality.
- Driving under the age limit.
Anyone driving extremely fast can be charged with reckless driving, a criminal offense. This is a class one misdemeanor and can carry a sentence of a year in jail, high fines (up to $2,500) and a suspended license. How fast is extremely fast? It is considered reckless driving if a vehicle is traveling over 80 mph in a 65 mph zone or, in any other zone, 20 mph faster than the speed limit.
How Long Is a Ticket on a Driving Record?
How long does it take to get a speeding ticket removed from a driving record? A speeding ticket usually stays on a person's driving record in Texas for three years.
Under the point system, where points are added to a driver's record for each violation, the points stay on their record and impact insurance rates for three years. High numbers of points increase insurance rates and can result in a suspended license.
There is no sure fire way to "get out of" a speeding ticket. A driver can contest the ticket in court. If they win, the ticket is no longer a part of their record. Alternatively, a driver can request permission to remove the violation by going to traffic school and taking a Texas defensive driving course. The court will not grant this option for drivers:
- With commercial driver's licenses.
- Who have dismissed a ticket within the past year.
- With tickets for a speed in excess of 25 mph over the limit.
Fighting a Ticket in Texas
Anyone getting a speeding ticket in Texas has the right to contest it in court. Since Texas is a presumed speeding law state, a driver has two arguments that can be presented to the traffic court judge. The driver can:
- Produce evidence that they were not speeding. That would involve showing that the actual speed the vehicle was traveling was under the posted limit.
- Admit that they exceeded the prima facie speed limit. but offer evidence that they were driving at a safe speed for existing conditions. This evidence might involve showing the highway conditions (flat and rural are best), the traffic flow (less is better), and the weather.
The first argument can be difficult to establish, since the police often use radar to determine speed. However, sometimes they do not use radar and just testify that the car seemed to be going very fast. If this is the case, the driver can offer their own testimony regarding the speed, or the testimony of a passenger or witness.
The "driving at a safe speed" defense works best for those drivers caught exceeding the speed limit by just a small amount. The more the driver exceeded the prima facie limit, the harder it is to establish that they were driving safely.
Preparing for Trial for Speeding Ticket
Anyone intending to contest a speeding ticket in court should invest time developing their evidence. Note that once evidence is presented establishing that the driver exceeded the posted speed limit, the state does not need to present evidence of unsafe driving.
Proving That the Speed Was Safe
In an ordinary criminal offense, the state has the burden of proof to show "beyond a reasonable doubt" that the accused did the illegal act. But in a presumed speed limit state, that burden is shifted to a driver who exceeded the limit; they have to prove that their speed was safe.
How to establish this? The driver is not likely to have taken photographs the day of the ticket. But they can return to the scene to take photographs of the area at the same time of day that the ticket was issued on a day that has the same weather conditions.
Consider photos from the driver's seat to show the condition of the road ahead. Diagrams can be used to show how few intersections were in the area. Experts suggest that a driver consult with an experienced local attorney for the best defense.
- National Motorists Association: State Speed Limit Chart
- Texas DMV: Texas Traffic Ticket Fines and Penalties
- Sheena Law Firm: Reckless Driving
- Texas Statutes: Transportation Code Section 545
- DMV.org: Texas Point System
- MyImprov: How Much Is a Speeding Ticket in Texas?
- Texas Department of Public Safety: Driver Responsibility Program Surcharge Repeal FAQ's
- Texas Transportation Code
- Do not argue about the speeding ticket with the officer who pulls you over. Police officers are charged with enforcing the law, not interpreting it. You will make your argument about the validity of the speeding ticket to a judge.
- If you are approaching the six-point limit on your driver's license, take care to drive very carefully so you do not incur additional surcharges or suspension.
- This article is for informational purposes only. This article in no way represents legal advice or counsel. Always contact a licensed attorney in your area before making important legal decisions.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.