AUSTIN -- Police, deputies and troopers are going out in extra numbers for the Labor Day weekend.
The Austin Police Department will hold one of its no-refusal initiatives through the holiday weekend. Any suspected drunk driver who refuses to give a breath test will instead be served with a warrant for a blood draw. No-refusal begins at 9:00 p.m. Friday and lasts through 5:00 a.m. Tuesday Sept. 3.
Drivers this weekend will also want to watch out for new Texas laws. Lawmakers passed nearly a dozen new traffic laws in the most recent legislative session. One new law ramps up the punishment for a driver who is involved in a fatal crash, but doesn’t stop. SB 275 increases the penalty from a third-degree felony to a second-degree felony. According to the Department of Public Safety, the second degree felony carries a punishment of two to 20 years in prison and an optional fine not to exceed $10,000. A third degree felony carries a penalty of two to 10 years in prison and an optional fine not to exceed $10,000.
Several new laws focus on changes in school zones. HB 347 expands the current limitations on cell phone use in an active school crossing zone. Currently drivers can’t use a cell phone unless they are stopped, on a hands-free device, or making an emergency call. The expanded law adds all the property of a public elementary, middle, or junior high school to those zones. The use will only be restricted during the time a reduced speed limit is in effect for the school crossing zone.
HB 1174 increases the fines for drivers who pass a stopped school bus loading or unloading children. The minimum fine increases from $200 to $500 and the maximum fine from $1,000 to $1,250. The law also increases the penalty for repeat offenders.
SB 181 allows drivers the option of using a wireless device such as a cell phone or tablet to show proof of insurance.
SB 510 extends the "move-over" law to Texas Department of Transportation vehicles. When a TxDOT vehicle is stopped with its lights on, drivers will be required to yield to the crew. Violators face a misdemeanor charge which includes a fine of up to $200 or $500 if property is damaged. It becomes a Class B misdemeanor if there is bodily damage.
HB 2304 allows for more agencies to enforce regulations for commercial vehicles. The law expands the authority to counties with a population of one million. The change opens the opportunity to Bexar, Tarrant and Travis counties.
HB 625 clarifies state law that requires drivers to display two license plates. Violators face a misdemeanor charge, punishable by a fine not to exceed $200.
Law enforcement agencies will begin enforcing the new state laws on Sunday September 1.