It's one of the ironies of life: the things that feel cool often bring pain. Take speed, for example. Speeding along in a sleek car or on a powerful Harley is just fun and cool and makes you feel good. That is especially true on long, flat highways in expansive states like Texas. But speeding can bring you pain, too, either in the form of a traffic accident or, more likely in Texas, a speeding ticket. And like so many unpleasant things, Texas speeding tickets don't disappear very fast. In fact, they hang around much longer than you might think.
Speed Laws and Speeding Tickets
If you've taken any cross-country road trips, you probably realize how much speed limit laws vary among the states. In some states like Idaho and Montana, you're allowed to whiz along at 80 miles an hour on some roads. In other states, any vehicle traveling over 65 on any road is exceeding the maximum posted limit. Then there can be different maximum speeds for rural interstates and urban interstates, cars and trucks and two-lane roads versus roads with multiple lanes. Anyone trying to replicate Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" adventure had better keep a close eye on the speedometer or the rear view mirror to avoid unpleasant surprises.
To complicate matters, speeding laws come in various "types." While most people realize (at least by the time they pass their driving test) that speed limits differ, they don't always learn that states actually have different types of speed laws. There are three basic types: absolute speed laws, basic speed laws and presumed speed laws.
Absolute speed laws are what most people are familiar with. In absolute law states, a speed limit is absolute. If you go one mile over the limit, you can get a ticket. If you go one mile under, you cannot.
Basic speed laws are different animals. They sound good in concept but are challenging. In a basic speed law state, you must drive at a safe speed for the conditions. If a police officer determines that you were driving too fast given the conditions at the time, you will get a ticket. This means that you might be creeping along at 10 miles below speed limit in the rain and still get a ticket. Tickets can also be issued for driving slowly on a busy highway if the officer thinks your speed is dangerously slow.
Then there is the presumed law category. States with presumed speed laws, including California, 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, and this gives you flexibility.
The troopers have discretion to ticket you in a presumed law state if you are going a few miles an hour over the limit, but the speed may be legal if you can show you were driving at a safe speed, given conditions. For example, if you get a ticket for going 60 on a stretch of straight, empty highway on a clear day with a 55-mph speed limit posted, you can probably win in court. This is important to know if you live in or drive through the Lone Star State, since Texas speed laws are presumed laws.
Speed Statute in Texas
Texas speeding laws are found in the Transportation Code. Section 545.352 of that code first sets out the presumption system of law, then sets out the "prima facie" speed limits, the top speeds presumed to be safe.
The statute provides that a speed in excess of the limits established by the law "is prima facie evidence that the speed is not reasonable and prudent." It is also prima facie evidence that the speed is unlawful. It then names the speeds that are lawful:
- 30 mph in an urban street
- 15 mph on an urban alley
- 70 mph on a numbered highway
- 60 mph on an unnumbered highway (with special rules for school bus speeds)
- 15 mph on a beach, or
- 15 mph on a county road near a public beach.
Note that while driving above these speeds is presumed to be unsafe, you are allowed to rebut the presumption by proving that you were driving at a safe speed given the weather, traffic and road conditions. Just so, traveling at or under these limits is presumed to be unsafe. But the law specifically mentions that if special hazards exist, a driver might need to travel under the speed limit to drive safely and thus legally in Texas.
The above summarizes the primary points. Here is the actual text of Transportation Code. Section 545.352:
PRIMA FACIE SPEED LIMITS
- (a) A speed in excess of the limits established by Subsection (b) or under another provision of this subchapter is prima facie evidence that the speed is not reasonable and prudent and that the speed is unlawful.
- (b) Unless a special hazard exists that requires a slower speed for compliance with Section 545.351(b), the following speeds are lawful:
- (1) 30 miles per hour in an urban district on a street other than an alley and 15 miles per hour in an alley;
- (2) except as provided by Subdivision (4), 70 miles per hour on a highway numbered by this state or the United States outside an urban district, including a farm-to-market or ranch-to-market road;
- (3) except as provided by Subdivision (4), 60 miles per hour on a highway that is outside an urban district and not a highway numbered by this state or the United States;
- (4) outside an urban district: (A) 60 miles per hour if the vehicle is a school bus that has passed a commercial motor vehicle inspection under Section 548.201 and is on a highway numbered by the United States or this state, including a farm-to-market road; or (B) 50 miles per hour if the vehicle is a school bus that: (i) has not passed a commercial motor vehicle inspection under Section 548.201; or (ii) is traveling on a highway not numbered by the United States or this state;
- (5) on a beach, 15 miles per hour; or
- (6) on a county road adjacent to a public beach, 15 miles per hour, if declared by the commissioners court of the county.
Fines for Texas Speeding Tickets
Before you decide to fight a speed ticket heart and soul, figure out what is at stake. In Texas, a fine for a speeding ticket depends on where you got the ticket. For example, the speeding violation fines in the big cities in Texas are:
- Houston: speeding fines range from $194 (1-5 mph over the speed limit) to $304 (more than 30 mph over the speed limit)
- Dallas: speeding tickets range from $97 (1-10 mph above the speed limit) to $200 (20 or more mph over the limit)
- Austin: ticket fines start at $143 (1-5 mph over) to $273 (26 mph over the limit or more)
- San Antonio: fines start at $173 if you are caught going 10 mph over the limit, then $5 for every mph you go above that.
You likely won't find the fine amount on the ticket, so you'll need to figure it out. But do it quickly, since fines usually increase if you miss the deadline for paying.
Also, consider surcharges that apply. Under the Texas point system, also called the Texas Driver Responsibility Program, the state can impose additional fees on drivers with many traffic tickets or those with serious violations. The additional fees and penalties are charged on top of the ticket fines. These surcharges depend on your record. If you have more than six points already, you’ll face an automatic surcharge of $100. Every additional point raises the surcharge by $25. If you've been convicted of serious driving violations, the surcharges are far larger. They can go up to $2,000 for a DWI conviction with a blood alcohol content of .16 or higher.
The possibility of a suspended license is very real in Texas. If you are convicted of four or more traffic tickets in 12 months, or seven in 24 months, your driving privileges may be suspended.
If you are driving really, truly fast, you may get charged with reckless driving, a criminal offense. This is a class one misdemeanor and can carry a sentence of a year in jail as well as whopping fines (up to $2,500) and a suspended license. It is considered reckless driving if you are traveling over 80 mph in a 65 mph zone or, in any other zone, 20 mph faster than the speed limit.
How to Get Rid of a Speeding Ticket in Texas
How long does it take to get a speeding ticket off your record in Texas? A speeding ticket usually stays on your driving record in Texas for three years. And, under the point system, where points are added to your record for each violation, your points also stay on your record for three years. You get two points added for a moving violation like speeding, and three points if that speeding results in a collision. High numbers of points can cause your insurance rates to soar. If your licence is suspended, your insurance company may dump you entirely.
Ask the court about taking a Texas defensive driving course to get rid of a violation. The court may not allow you to do this if you hold a commercial driver's license, you have already dismissed a ticket within the past year or your ticket was for a speed more than 25 mph over the limit. If you are approved to take a course after getting a ticket, it's usually the best thing to do. Reducing the number of points on your Texas driving record could lower fines and surcharges as well as insurance rates.
Fighting a Ticket in Texas
If you have a clean driving record, and then get a first time speeding ticket in Texas, you might just want to fight it. And if you get a second or third ticket, you may need to fight it to keep your points down. Since Texas is a presumed-speeding-law state, you have two arguments for the traffic court judge.
First, you can claim that you weren't speeding, that the officer was wrong and that your driving speed was under the posted limit. This may be difficult to establish if the police officer actually recorded your speed with radar, it can work if the officer's report states he just glanced at you zip by and estimated your speed.
Second, you can also claim that, speed limit be damned, you were driving at a safe speed for the conditions. Obviously you will want to establish the highway conditions (flat and rural are best), the traffic flow (less is better) and the weather. Clearly rain, fog, ice, snow or sleet are not ideal here. Because if conditions were poor, it's easier for the court to believe that you were driving in an unsafe manner.
You may have a good chance of prevailing in Texas court if you can show you were just slightly over the limit, and road, weather, and traffic conditions were good. But the more you were going above the limit, the harder time you may have. Remember, in an ordinary criminal offense, the police officer has the burden of proof and must show you did the illegal act (here, speeding) "beyond a reasonable doubt." In presumed speed limit tickets, that burden is shifted to you when you go over the limit. You have to prove that your speed was safe, even though you were going faster than the limit. This will be easier if you were going 52 mph in a zone marked 50 than if you were traveling at 75 mph in the same zone.
If you think you have a chance to establish that your speed was safe, collect evidence helping to prove it. Take photos at the same time of day you got the ticket, on a day that has the same weather conditions. Consider photos from the driver's seat to show what you saw, hopefully a straight, recently resurfaced road stretching on ahead. Diagram the area to show intersections, hopefully few in the area, controlled by stop signs. If the traffic was light (for example, early on a Sunday morning), establish that. If it was heavy, consider the argument that everyone was driving over the limit and that you would have put yourself in danger by driving more slowly. If it is deeply important to you, consider getting legal counsel.