As a new law is introduced giving Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) engineers the authority to alter speed limits during dangerous road conditions, the legal team at McAllen and San Antonio personal injury law firm Patino Law explain the speed limit in Texas, the penalties for violating it, and whether or not Texas speeding laws are effective based on the number of accidents that occur on our roads every day.
What Is the Speed Limit in Texas?
Speed limits in Texas are governed by Title 7 (Vehicles and Traffic, Subtitle C: Rules of the Road, Chapter 545: Operation and Movement of Vehicles, Subchapter H: Speed Restrictions) of the Texas Transportation Code and are as follows:
- 30 miles per hour (mph) in an urban district on a street
- 15 miles per hour in an alley;
- 70 miles per hour on a numbered state or federal highway outside an urban district (including farm-to-market and ranch-to-market roads)
- 60 miles per hour on a non-numbered highway outside an urban district
- 15 miles per hour on a beach
- 15 miles per hour on a county road adjacent to a public beach.
If the vehicle is a school bus, the restrictions are slightly different:
- If the bus has passed a commercial motor vehicle inspection, 60 miles per hour on a numbered state or federal highway outside an urban district (including farm-to-market and ranch-to-market roads)
- 50 miles per hour if the bus has not passed a commercial motor vehicle inspection
- 50 miles per hour on a non-numbered highway outside an urban district.
It’s worth noting that a separate provision in the law allows the Texas Transportation Commission to establish a speed limit of as high as 85 mph on highways designed to accommodate such a speed if it is determined to be safe and reasonable.
There is currently one road in Texas where this speed limit applies, marking the highest speed limit in the country — a 41-mile portion of State Highway 130 between State Highway 45 in Austin and Interstate 10 in Seguin.
On several other highways, Texas statutorily allows speeds of up to 80 mph. These roads include the remaining stretch of State Highway 130 and sections of Interstate (I) 10, I-20, and I-35.
Is There a Minimum Speed Limit?
While there is no minimum speed drivers must comply with, Section 545.363 of the Texas Transportation Code states:
“An operator may not drive so slowly as to impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic, except when reduced speed is necessary for safe operation or in compliance with law.”
Just as different counties, towns, or roads may have specific maximum speed limits, minimum speed limits can apply — these will be indicated by signs.
Can I Go Over the Speed Limit?
The Texas Transportation Code also includes a peculiar line regarding speed limits:
“An operator may not drive at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the circumstances then existing.” (Sec. 545.351)
You might wonder, then, if it is lawful to exceed a posted speed limit if it is “reasonable and prudent” to do so.
But this provision in itself is vague. After all, what may seem prudent to one person can be considered unreasonable to another.
To unpack this, we need to explain that Texas is unique in that unlike most states, which have fixed speed limits, it adopts “prima facie” (Latin for “at first sight”) limits.
In a nutshell, the law states that exceeding a speed limit is “prima facie evidence that the speed is not reasonable” (and, therefore, unlawful).
For example, going 70 mph in a 60 zone is prima facie unlawful — or against the law at first sight.
But prima facie laws provide wiggle room for extraordinary circumstances — if a situation can be interpreted one way at first glance, then it stands to reason that there is an alternative interpretation.
This means that if, on closer inspection, there is evidence that going 70 mph was prudent and reasonable under the circumstances at the time of exceeding the speed limit, it is not an offense.
These seeming gaps in the law are vital to protect those with an acceptable reason for speeding, such as when abiding by the limit would pose more danger than not.
These circumstances are rare, but take the following scenario:
|Two vehicles are traveling down a narrow road. The driver in the vehicle behind experiences a sudden unintended acceleration (SUA) due to an auto defect that causes the throttle to expand.
The driver ahead glances in their mirror and sees a car swiftly approaching and not slowing down. They hit the gas until they reach a section of the road to safely pull over. During this incident, the driver in the car ahead exceeds the posted speed limit.
Should this driver be charged with speeding? Most would likely agree that “under the circumstances then existing,” it was reasonable to accelerate; not doing so could have resulted in a devastating rear-end crash and inflicted severe injuries on both drivers.
The flipside to prima facie laws is that motorists may think they can legally exceed the speed limit because they believe it’s reasonable. Perhaps a road has very little traffic, or you are simply following the lead of the cars in front — if everyone else is slightly over the limit, what’s the harm in going a couple extra miles per hour?
It’s vital to remember that this provision isn’t a loophole to give drivers a free pass to go that little bit faster when they’re running late or because there are no other vehicles or pedestrians around.
Whether or not to issue a ticket is at the discretion of each law enforcement officer, but it’s a myth that officers won’t ticket you if you’re only a few miles over the speed limit.
Speeding is an unlawful offense with severe — even potentially fatal — consequences. As such, there are various penalties for speeding.
What Are the Penalties for Speeding?
Speeding penalties in Texas vary based on several factors, including whether it’s a first-time offense and where the offense occurred.
Speeding is generally treated as a Class C misdemeanor, carrying a fine of up to $356, depending on location. Drivers who challenge a ticket may also be liable for court costs, which could exceed the fine.
Repeat offenders face more severe penalties, including more expensive fines and license suspension.
Texas law issues much stiffer penalties for drivers who are significantly over the limit. Fines are typically imposed on a tiered system, with excessive speed violations incurring higher fines. Driver may also be charged with reckless driving, which can carry jail time.
Another factor that affects speeding penalties is where the offense occurs. For example, speeding in a construction or maintenance work zone can add as much as 50% to a fine.
Penalties can also vary by city. In San Antonio, exceeding the limit by 14 miles per hour incurs a $210 fine. The penalties in Austin are much stricter, and drivers can expect a similar fine ($210.50) for being 11 mph over the limit on a posted city street.
The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) enforces a points system to deter motorists from speeding. Drivers incur two points for any moving violation and three points for a moving violation that leads to a collision.
Accumulating six or more points in three years can result in license suspension and an automatic surcharge that must be paid yearly for three years.
The number of points on a driver’s record can also impact their insurance premiums, as a disregard for traffic violations may be viewed as a sign they are more likely to cause a crash.
New Law Means Speed Limit May Vary
In June 2023, House Bill 1885 was signed into law. The Bill, effective from September 1st, 2023, allows TxDOT engineers to temporarily change speed limits on a portion of road or highway without approval from Texas transportation commissioners during roadway construction or maintenance and in inclement weather conditions such as fog, ice, high winds, and heavy rain.
The change aims to reduce car accidents caused by speeding (the leading contributing factor to accidents in the state) and reckless driving.
Now, officials can drop the speed limit by up to 10 mph from the posted speed limit. Signs will be posted between 500 and 1,000 feet from where the change begins and will be permanent in highly congested areas.
The law change is a response to a particularly devastating crash that occurred on an icy morning in February 2021, when slippery roads and poor visibility triggered a chain reaction of crashes on Interstate 35W in Fort Worth, leading to a pileup of 133 vehicles. Six people died as a result.
State Representative Terry Canales, who authored the Bill, believes it could have prevented the catastrophic accident had it been implemented sooner.
Is the Speed Limit Effective?
Speed limits are only effective at reducing crashes if motorists follow the law.
But statistics show many drivers don’t.
Our comprehensive analysis of 2023 auto accidents in Texas revealed that a failure to control speed is the most commonly cited primary factor in accidents, responsible for 89,529 of the 468,850 accidents reported from January to September 2023. Add to that the 13,133 crashes attributed to “unsafe speed” and 688 collisions caused by speeding (over the limit), and speeding has contributed to a staggering 103,350 crashes in 2023 — or 22% of the state’s total.
Ignorance is likely the main culprit. Motorists may mistakenly think they can get away with driving a few miles over the posted limit, and they may not even see the harm of speeding when there are no other vehicles or pedestrians around.
As speed limits can vary, a motorist may not be aware a speed limit has changed from one road to the next.
The alternative reason is more malicious — some drivers may be fully aware of the potential consequences of speeding and do so anyway.
The Dangers of Speeding in Texas
Speeding is dangerous in multiple ways, and the consequences can be far-reaching and severe.
Driving at higher speeds makes it harder to navigate tight corners or steer around hazards and increases stopping distance. Any of these factors can be devastating, causing a driver to lose control or giving them less time to react to changing road conditions or a crash in progress.
Speeding is also likely to cause more severe injuries. Motion creates energy or force. When two vehicles crash, the energy has to go somewhere, and this is what causes physical damage. The faster a vehicle is traveling, the more force is generated — even the difference between a crash at 20 mph and 30 mph is substantial.
The Impact of Speeding on a Car Accident Claim
Because speeding accidents often result in catastrophic injuries, victims often face a lengthy recovery and skyrocketing medical expenses. This financial burden is compounded if an individual cannot work due to their injuries.
But high-speed car accidents also have a significant emotional impact. A person’s injuries can cause them daily pain for months, years, or for the rest of their life. They might have post-traumatic stress disorder and become withdrawn, affecting their relationships with loved ones and their overall quality of life.
If you’ve been injured in an auto accident caused by a speeding driver, you may be entitled to significant compensation.
To win a claim, you must prove the person who caused your accident owed you a duty of care and was negligent. All motorists are obligated to follow traffic laws — such as maintaining a reasonable speed — and failing to do so constitutes a breach. This typically means that all you need to prove is that the driver was speeding and that the accident caused your injuries.
This burden of proof makes it vital to gather evidence immediately after your accident. Take the following steps after your accident to maximize your chance of recovering the compensation you deserve.
Call the Police
When law enforcement arrives at the scene, they will investigate the accident and compile a crash report, documenting damage to vehicles, drivers, passengers, and pedestrians. They will also cite the factors that contributed to the crash and issue any relevant citations. You or your personal injury attorney can request a copy of your accident report.
If police cite “speeding” or “failure to control speed” as a primary factor and issue a ticket to the other driver, it can significantly bolster your claim and prevent the driver you are claiming against from disputing that they were speeding.
Take Photographs and Collect Information
If it is safe to do so, take photographs of the accident scene using your cell phone. Photograph any damage to vehicles, your injuries, and skid marks on the road that indicate the other driver was traveling at high speed and could not slow in time. You should also collect the contact details of others involved in the crash or who witnessed what happened — it is much harder for a driver to deny they were speeding if several others saw them do it.
Seek Medical Attention
Getting medical treatment is a vital step after your accident, as it allows you to document your injuries. This prevents the insurance company from claiming you sustained your injuries later on in a separate incident, which can affect the compensation you receive.
Speak to a Texas Personal Injury Lawyer
A personal injury lawyer can provide invaluable support and help you get the maximum compensation you deserve. An attorney will investigate your accident, which may include working with accident reconstructionists, who can utilize crash data and other evidence to create several scenarios and replicate the crash. For example, reconstructionists can test various vehicle speeds and stopping distances and compare the results against photographs showing skid marks and vehicle placement to prove who was speeding.
A personal injury attorney can also gather data from nearby speed cameras or CCTV proving that a driver exceeded the limit.
Speeding is devastatingly common in Texas, but there is some small comfort in knowing that you do not have to face the financial burden alone if you are injured in an accident. Our personal injury lawyer in McAllen and San Antonio handles speeding accident claims across the state, whether you are in McAllen, Mission, Edinburg, Palmhurst, Pharr, Uvalde, San Antonio, Converse, Hondo, or further afield.
Call 855-LAW-NINJA, fill in the contact form, or pop into our offices for a free, no-obligation case review to discover where you stand and determine if we are the right firm for you. We are available 24/7, and you will not pay any fees until we win your case.