Charlie Thomas explains the laws of Texas
As both a bicycle accident attorney and advocate for safer riding, I prepared this article to serve as an overview of the laws that apply to riders while bicycling in Texas.
Fault of the Motorist or Bicyclist in a Crash that Affects Recovery
In any accident, the question of fault or liability asks who was responsible for causing the accident and to what degree. Different states treat this issue of fault differently depending on the amount of fault of the injured person. Texas follows a 51% modified comparative fault rule, which means that an injured party cannot recover if it is more than 50 percent at fault for causing the accident. However, the injured party can recover if it is 50 percent or less at fault, but that recovery would be reduced by its degree of fault. Therefore, it is critical that an injured party in Texas demonstrate that his or her fault, also known as proportionate responsibility, was 50% or less if they hope to recover from another party for injuries suffered. Source: Tex. Civil Practice & Remedies Code §33.001, et seq.
Safe Passing Laws
Texas does not have a statewide law that sets a specific distance for a motor vehicle overtaking a bicycle. The overtaking of a bicycle by a motor vehicle is governed by general traffic laws and must be done to the left and at a safe distance. Nevertheless, several cities such as Austin, San Antonio, New Braunfels, Helotes, El Paso, and Beaumont have proactively passed their own 3-foot safe passing laws. Austin has recently taken the enforcement of this safe passing law to the next level by using undercover police officers on bicycles to crackdown on violators. Source: Tex. Transp. Code Ann. §545.053.
Currently, Texas does not have a statewide helmet law. As a general matter, it is legal for all persons of any age to operate a bicycle without wearing a helmet unless otherwise provided by a municipal regulation. However, cities such as Austin, Houston, and Ft. Worth have passed mandatory helmet laws for children under 18. Source: TS §662.105.
Texas does not have a statewide statute that specifically authorizes or prohibits the operation of a bicycle upon a sidewalk. Sidewalk riding is prohibited by local ordinance in some areas. Examples of areas of prohibited sidewalk riding include the campus of the University of Texas at Austin, Austin’s business districts, and Corpus Christi.
Bicycling Under the Influence
In Texas, the law that prohibits driving while under the influence of alcohol or other controlled substances is written so that it applies to motor vehicles and therefore does not directly apply to bicyclists. Source: Tex. Transp. Code Ann. §49.04.
Texas requires that no person open the door of a motor vehicle on the side available to moving traffic, unless the door may be opened in reasonable safety without interfering with the movement of other traffic. In addition, no person shall leave a door on the side of a vehicle next to moving traffic open for longer than is necessary to load or unload a passenger. Source: Tex. Transp. Code Ann. §545.418.
Vulnerable Road User Laws
Texas does not have any statewide vulnerable road user laws at this time, but some cities such as Houston and Austin have passed their own ordinances protecting vulnerable road users. Source: Houston, Texas, Code of Ordinances, Chapter 45 – Traffic, Article XII. – Sec. 45-44. Vulnerable Road Users; Austin Ord. 20091022-030; § 12-1-35 Vulnerable Road Users.
“Idaho Stop” and Vehicle Detection Errors
Texas does not provide any modifications to the requirement to come to a complete stop when directed to stop by traffic control devices and does not authorize bicyclists to disobey traffic lights that fail to detect bicyclists.
Treatment as a Vehicle
In Texas bicycles are vehicles according to the statute that defines vehicles and a person riding a bicycle has all of the rights and duties of a driver of a vehicle under the Texas Rules of the Road, except for special regulations specific to bicycles and those provisions that by their nature can have no application. Source: Tex. Transp. Code Ann. §§541.201(23); 551.101.
Mandatory Use of Separated Facilities
Texas does not require that bicyclists use any lane or path other than a normal vehicular traffic lane.
Distracted Driving Laws
Texas currently has the following laws aimed at distracted driving, subject to limited exceptions: (1) a person under 18 years of age may not operate a motor vehicle while using a wireless communications device; (2) a person under 17 years of age who holds a restricted motorcycle license or moped license may not operate a motorcycle or moped while using a wireless communications device; (3) an operator may not use a wireless communication device while operating a passenger bus with a minor passenger on the bus unless the passenger bus is stopped; and (4) an operator may not use a wireless communication device while operating a motor vehicle within a school crossing zone unless the vehicle is stopped; or the wireless communication device is used with a hands-free device. Source: Tex. Transp. Code Ann. §§545.424; 545.425
Where to Ride
Texas requires that a person operating a bicycle on a roadway, at a speed less than the speed of traffic, shall generally ride as near as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway. There are a few exceptions to this general rule, as when: (1) the person is passing another vehicle moving in the same direction; (2) the person is preparing to turn left at an intersection or onto a private road or driveway; (3) there exists a condition on or of the roadway that prevents the person from safely riding next to the right curb or edge of the roadway; or (4) the person is operating a bicycle in an outside lane that is (i) Less than 14 feet in width and does not have a designated bicycle lane adjacent to that lane; or (ii) Too narrow for a bicycle and a motor vehicle to safely travel side by side; and (5) the person is operating a bicycle on a one-way roadway with two or more marked traffic lanes, in which case they may ride as near as practicable to the left curb or edge of the roadway. Source: Tex. Transp. Code Ann. §551.103
If you have any questions about these laws or how they may apply, please feel free to contact us via email ([email protected]) or phone (1-844-531-7530) to discuss this topic further.