There are nearly 700,000 miles of highway in the state of Texas, and whether you’re taking them to visit one of the state’s many attractions or just passing through, it’s important to follow the rules of the road. Driving laws vary from one state to another and claiming ignorance of Texas laws won’t get you out of a ticket or any other penalty for breaking the law. So read on for some of the highlights of Texas driving laws that you need to know before you depart for the Lone Star state.

Don’t Drive Distracted

The key to safe driving anywhere is to pay attention. Follow the posted speed limit signs and reduce your speed if weather conditions are poor. Be aware of other drivers, as well as pedestrians and other people, animals, or obstacles on the roadway. Staying focused on the road will give you more time to react to unexpected situations, such as a deer crossing the roadway.

If you come across a stopped emergency vehicle with flashing lights, move a lane away from it to give adequate room. It’s called the Move Over Law. If you’re not able to move a lane away, slow to 20 mph below the speed limit to give yourself enough time to react to the situation. But in no circumstance should you continue driving in a left-most highway lane indefinitely. These lanes are to be used solely for passing other vehicles. Staying in these lanes and impeding traffic could result in a fine of up to $200.

To help keep drivers’ eyes on the road, Texas laws prohibit drivers from sending or receiving electronic messages – in other words, your texts can wait until you’ve safely parked and turned off the vehicle. Drivers under the age of 18 are not allowed to use handheld devices while driving; all cell phone calls must use a hands-free function. While drivers over the age of 18 are not prohibited from using handheld devices in most circumstances, they are disallowed while traveling through school zones.

Keep in mind that some cities may have more restrictive laws concerning cell phones and handheld device use, so be sure you’re following local laws. Or, just put the phone away and enjoy the beautiful Texas scenery!

Be Patient

Cruising Texas highways can be a lot of fun, especially when there’s nice weather and limited traffic. But sometimes emotions run high behind the wheel. We get it – sometimes other drivers are frustrating, or we let events in our personal lives impact the way we drive. But that’s not safe – not for us, our passengers, or those with whom we share Texas roads.

To help keep emotions in check, plan your trip for times with lighter traffic, and anticipate potential delays. It’s always better to have some extra time in your itinerary that you can use to visit a roadside historical marker or stop for a nice meal, instead of getting angry and frustrated over delays. Plus, fines for road rage incidents can cost you up to $200, so it’s in your best interest to stay calm and focused on your trip.

As you travel, be cautious and considerate to other drivers. Use your horn sparingly, and don’t tailgate other vehicles or flash your lights at anyone. If you recognize that you’re sharing the road with an angry driver, avoid making eye contact with them, and don’t respond to their words or gestures. If you feel concerned that they may try to escalate the situation, call 911 (Texas law makes an exception to cell phone rules in the case of emergencies).

Protect Yourself

Every time you get in a vehicle, it’s a good decision to buckle up – and in Texas, it’s the law. All drivers and adult passengers need to wear a properly fitting safety belt. The lap portion of the belt should fit snugly and sit low across the hips, while the shoulder restraint goes over the shoulder and crosses the center of the chest. Avoid putting the shoulder restraint behind you, under your arm, or in any position other than across the center of the chest.

Child passengers need to use the appropriate safety equipment for their age, height, and weight. Children under two years of age need to be in a rear-facing car seat. Once they reach two years old or exceed the height or weight requirement of their rear-facing car seat, they should graduate to a forward-facing car seat with a harness.

After a child exceeds the height or weight limit for their forward-facing car seat, they can move to a booster seat that positions them properly for use with the vehicle’s seat belt. They should continue to use the booster seat until they are able to fit securely in the vehicles safety restraint without the booster seat, which typically occurs when they reach 4 feet 9 inches tall.

The state of Texas wants to make sure that your child is safe while riding in your vehicle, so they offer free car seat checks at 25 district Department of Transportation offices across the state. Visit TxDOT to find locations and learn how to schedule your check.

Drive Sober

There are many attractions to visit in the state of Texas, but the jails are not one you should aspire to see. And if you want to avoid them, make sure that you’re not under the influence of alcohol or drugs when you get behind the wheel.

Texas defines legal intoxication as having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08%, but any time that alcohol or drugs impact your ability to drive, you’re breaking the law. And even if you’re well below the limit, but you’re carrying an open container of alcohol in your vehicle, you’re driving illegally.

Texas has some pretty stiff penalties for driving while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs. A first DWI offense carries a fine of up to $2,000, a mandatory three-day jail sentence (which can be extended up to 180 days), and the loss of your driver’s license for up to one year. This does not include a state-imposed fine that could add a penalty of $3,000 – $6,000.

Penalties increase for each subsequent DWI conviction, and they also increase if there is a child in the vehicle. Drunk driving with a child passenger under the age of 15 will result in the driver being charged with child endangerment. The financial penalty could be increased up to an additional $10,000, you could be put in jail for up to two years, and your driver’s license could be revoked for an additional 180 days

Enjoy your Trip through the Lone Star State

As you can see, Texas takes safe driving seriously. These laws – and the penalties that go with breaking them – are intended to keep you safe. So, follow the rules, relax, and have a great time traveling through the Lone Star State.

To make sure you are truly up to date on the latest traffic laws and safe driving techniques, take a DriveSafe Online defensive driving course. You’ll learn how to be a safer driver and could save money on your auto insurance!