Houston has a sophisticated traffic system and driving in Houston is safe. Driving rules are followed and courtesy is common in Texas, even though the hectic city life and the influx of foreigners, or out-of-state drivers, sometimes make it less obvious in Houston.
Major Driving Rules
- Houston uses a right handed driving system (as does the entire U.S.)
- All passengers in a car or truck must wear a seat belt.
- Children must be transported in a child safety seat fastened on the rear seat.
- Drivers must have a valid driver license for the type of vehicle they are operating.
- Every driver must carry valid registration and proof of liability insurance when operating a motor vehicle.
- If in an accident, if you can steer it, clear it.
- Vehicles must halt for two seconds at stop signs.
- Right turn at red light is legal unless otherwise indicated (signage stating ‘No right turn on red’).
- 4-way stop signs give the first to arrive the right of way. If unclear, using hand signals and letting the person to your right go first shows Texas courtesy.
- Slower traffic generally keeps right.
- Driving on the shoulder while passing on the right, is legal in Texas, if it can safely be done so and if traffic in the main lane has stopped and there is an upcoming right turn to make or a car in the same lane is passing left.
- Driving on the shoulder is also commonly accepted and shows Texas courtesy, if moving slower than traffic and letting others pass, unless otherwise indicated.
- When there are multi-lanes going in one direction, passing on the right is legal unless otherwise indicated.
- When involved in an accident, do not leave or it is considered a hit and run and results in heavy fines.
- When injuring someone in an accident, such as a pedestrian, and leaving the scene is considered failure to render aid and results in a charge and heavy fine.
- Do not run a red light. Running a red light counts once your car’s nose crossed the line entering an intersection with the red light on.
- Pay tolls on the toll roads (Sam Houston Parkway and Hardy Toll Road) and use appropriate lanes when passing through. EZ-tag lanes are only for vehicles carrying such tags.
- Houston, in practicality, tolerates a speed 10-over the speed limit on freeways but don’t push it when there is law-enforcement nearby.
- Speeds are enforced with police holding radar guns and when catching a speeding vehicle, the police will follow the car with lights on. The driver is required to pull over as soon as able to do so safely. The police will ask for identification and proof of insurance and then give a warning or hand a ticket with a request to show up in court to pay a fine.
- Use of cell phones in school districts is prohibited and will be fined.
- Don’t text on the phone and drive.
- During certain hours, school zones have a speed limit which is indicated at the beginning of the school zone and may alert drivers with a blinking light.
- Downtown parking meters must be used or a ticket may be given.
- Do not park where parking is prohibited (through displayed signage) or the vehicle may be towed.
- Do not double-park on streets.
For rules and laws for motor vehicle accidents, see previous section ‘Car Insurance’.
A DUI (driving under the influence) or DWI (driving while intoxicated) in Texas is defined by driving with a blood alcohol level (BAL) of .08% or higher. Some people can reach this level by drinking two or three drinks within an hour, so awareness of consumption is highly recommended. Having any amount of alcohol in the blood for under-21 year olds is an automatic DUI (driving under the influence) with heavy fines.
Houston promotes a ‘designated driver’ program if you plan on consuming alcohol while being out. A ‘designated driver’ is a person who does not drink alcohol and drives everyone home. There is a high awareness of drunk driving with signs stating ‘Drink, drive, go to jail’ at gas stations or on freeway billboards. Police controls are also increased during peak times. Penalties include fines, community service and loss of driver’s license. Texas is very tough on DUIs; killing someone while driving under the influence may constitute in a murder charge.