For decades, it has been the law for cars registered in Texas to display license plates on the rear "and" front bumpers. But you don't have to look far to see a car without a plate on the front bumper or grille. Texas Department of Public Safety Sgt. John Sampa says drivers often have excuses for that.
"I bought the car without having a fixture already mounted for the plate, and so I never did put a plate. Or they'll get information saying the dealer says they only need one plate."
A law enforcement officer can pull you over for not displaying both plates, even if you're breaking no other laws. On the first of the month, a law took effect that clarified the maximum fine for that misdemeanor is $200. Sgt. Sampa says some jurisdictions will give license plate violators a few days to make sure both plates are attached, and dismiss the ticket.
"Even though your ticket may get dismissed, there may be some fines you still have to pay — which are called court costs."
Sgt. Sampa says displaying a license plate in your windshield won't fix the problem. It's illegal, and the plate can become a dangerous projectile in an accident.
Two other changes to the state's road rules are designed to cut down on hit-and-run accidents. Sgt. Sampa says one measure clarifies that when an accident happens, drivers are required to stop driving and determine whether another person was involved, and whether that person was hurt or killed.
"And what that means is that, a lot of times, when people are driving impaired, they'll leave the scene. And their defense to the prosecution is that 'I wasn't in the right frame of mind, so I didn't bother to check,' or whatever the case may be."
A separate, but related, change increases the penalty for leaving the scene of a fatal accident. Doing that is now a second degree felony, which can result in up to 20 years in prison, and a $10,000 fine. Sgt. Sampa says that punishment is now in line with the one for intoxicated manslaughter.
"So, again, it (just) gives the driver — holding the driver more accountable — to not leave the scene. Because, if he or she leaves the scene, they're facing some stiffer penalties, whether they were impaired or not impaired."
Sgt. Sampa says other tweaks to driving laws involve school zones. One of them expands the areas around schools where drivers cannot use a hand-held mobile device when the school zone is active. That now includes crossings manned by a crossing guard — even the ones that aren't technically in a school zone. Also, drivers who pass school buses while kids are getting on or off now face a minimum fine of $1,000 — twice what it used to be.