New Texas laws covering speed limits, vehicle fees in effect Sept. 1

August 31, 2023

Keith Goble

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Multiple new Texas rules in effect this week will impact truck drivers.

Electric and hybrid vehicles

Effective Friday, Sept. 1, a new law intended to boost road revenue will impose an additional fee for the registration and renewed registration of electric and hybrid vehicles.

The cost to register a new electric vehicle will be $400. The annual registration fee will cost $200.

The new fees are estimated to raise an additional $280 million during the 2024-25 biennium, according to a fiscal note. They apply only to affected vehicles weighing up to 10,000 pounds.

While the issue was under review at the statehouse, supporters said that electric vehicle owners essentially receive a tax break by not paying the 20-cent state fuel excise tax. Taxes they do pay do not go into the road fund.

They added it is time to adopt the new fees because fuel tax revenues cannot keep pace with vehicle use and rising road construction costs. Additionally, supporters said the increasing popularity of more fuel-efficient and electric vehicles will only widen the gap.

Ninety percent of the revenue raised from the new fees will go to the state highway fund, which can be used only for road and bridge work.

Commercial fleets

A separate new law modifies the definition of a commercial fleet.

Texas law has required motor carriers with at least 25 commercial vehicles to align all registration renewals to occur at the same time.

Starting Friday, Sept. 1, a new law will lower the number of motor vehicles necessary to qualify as a commercial fleet from 25 to 12. Supporters say the change is intended to increase efficiency and streamline operations’ efforts to monitor registration deadlines and process registration paperwork.

Heavier trucks

Another new rule already in effect permits heavier trucks in certain situations. Specifically, electric-powered trucks and trucks powered primarily by natural gas are authorized to weigh up to 82,000 pounds – up from 80,000 pounds.

The change mirrors a federal weight exemption for affected trucks. Most states have the same exemption.

Passed by Congress in 2015, Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act raised the weight limit for natural gas and electric battery-powered tractor trailers to 82,000 pounds. The rule authorizes states to act to raise the weight on interstates within their borders.

Advocates say the weight allowance is necessary because heavier equipment is required to power trucks operating on electric battery power and natural gas.

Variable speed limits

One more new law in effect the first of the month authorizes the Texas Transportation Commission to establish variable speed limits.

Variable speed limits use signs that change the posted speed in an effort to avoid traffic congestion. The Texas A&M Transportation Institute provides information on how the process works.

The temporary lowering of a speed limit is authorized to address inclement weather, congestion, road construction or any other condition that affects “orderly movement of traffic.”

Variable speeds must be based on an engineering and traffic investigation. Additionally, variable speeds cannot be set less than 10 mph below the posted speed limit.

While the rule change was making its way through the statehouse, critics voiced concern the change could be used to intentionally slow traffic for an indefinite period of time. They added it could be used to set speed traps.

A provision included in the new law clarifies that a speed limit cannot be lowered “to divert traffic to a toll road for the purpose of increasing revenue from toll charges.” LL

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