The Common Law

Traffic, traffic, and more traffic laws

My high school friends and I want to head to the Texas coast for spring break. One of my friends drives a pickup truck. Is it legal for me and others to ride to the coast in the bed of the pickup? – Ethan T.

No. The Texas Transportation Code (§ 545.414) says that it's against the law to operate an open-bed pickup truck with a child younger than 18 years of age occupying the bed of the truck or trailer. There are a few exceptions to the law that don't apply (parades, transporting farmworkers, operating the only vehicle owned or operated by the household). There is some good news if you can make it to the coast – children under 18 are allowed to ride in the pickup bed while driving on the beach.

I recently got a ticket because I didn't have a front license plate. Does the law really require me to have a front license plate?

Yes. Texas is one of 31 states that requires a front license plate in addition to the rear plates. There has been some debate about the required location for the front display of license plates. The debate centers around whether the placement of the front plate in the front windshield complies with the statute. The Texas Administrative Code (Title 43, Rule § 217.27) states that the front license plate must be securely fastened at the exterior front. Courts have typically interpreted this location as the front bumper. Another nuance – license plates must also be "well-lit" at night. If a police officer cannot "clearly" see your license plates from 50 feet away, you are still in violation of the statute, and potentially at risk of being pulled over.

I got a ticket because I didn't create enough space between my car as I passed an emergency responder. Is there a law on that?

Yes – it's called the Texas "Move Over/Slow Down" law (originally passed in 2003). The law requires Texas motorists to provide a one-lane buffer between their car and the law enforcement or first responder vehicle on the side of the road, or, if this is not possible, to slow down to 20 mph below the posted speed limit. The law has now been expanded to apply to Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) vehicles with their lights activated and without being separated from the roadway by a traffic-control device.

Please submit column suggestions, questions, and comments to thecommonlaw@austinchronicle.com. Submission of potential topics does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information submitted is subject to being included in future columns.

Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP, www.jmehlaw.com.

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.

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