Texas passed a new speed limit law on September 1, 2023. House Bill 1885 established variable speed limits (VSLs), or temporary changes to a road’s speed limit in dangerous conditions. In passing this bill, lawmakers hope to prevent serious car accidents caused by speeding in conditions such as construction zones and bad weather.

What Are Variable Speed Limits?

A variable speed limit is a traffic management strategy that allows the speed limit posted on a roadway to be temporarily adjusted according to real-time road conditions. It is a more dynamic method of vehicle speed control compared to traditional fixed speed limits, which remain the same regardless of road conditions. 

Factors that can make driving more dangerous, such as congested traffic, construction zones or environmental conditions, can trigger a temporary speed limit adjustment for a portion of a road or highway with variable speed limits. VSLs aim to reduce the risk of car accidents in dangerous conditions by improving traffic flow, reducing road congestion and preventing speed-related accidents.

When Will Variable Speed Limits Apply in Texas Under the New Law?

House Bill 1885 enables local Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) engineers to temporarily change the speed limit posted on a portion of a road without getting approval from statewide transportation commissioners first, in certain conditions. The bill passed the House by a 99-47 vote and the Senate by 25-6. This outcome was attributed to educating voters more on the safety benefits of variable speed limits than when similar bills were voted on and failed in previous years.

 According to the new law, variable speed limits may apply in any of the following situations:

  • Emergencies
  • Heavy fog
  • Ice or snow
  • Inclement weather conditions
  • Poor visibility
  • Rain 
  • Road construction
  • Road maintenance
  • Special events 

In any road condition deemed potentially hazardous, TxDOT has the authority to implement temporary speed limits that motorists must obey. The new law in Texas states that a temporary speed limit cannot be lower than 10 miles per hour less than the regular posted limit and is only in effect when it is visible on signs in place to notify drivers of the change. These signs may include mobile digital signage, TxDOT electronic signs or physical signs.

How Effective Are Variable Speed Limits in Preventing Car Accidents?

In 2013, House Bill 2204 launched a TxDOT pilot program for variable speed limits. This program tested the efficacy of temporarily altering speed limits in dangerous conditions. In 2014, variable speed limits were deployed in San Antonio, Temple and Eastland County. 

The data collected and analyzed from this pilot program showed that VSLs came with marked safety benefits and a reduced risk of car accidents in adverse traffic and weather conditions. The pilot demonstrated that motorists would benefit if the program were allowed to continue in Texas.

What if a Driver Fails to Obey the Variable Speed Limit?

Under Texas’ new law, variable speed limits must be followed and obeyed in the same manner as standard non-variable limits. Violating the temporary speed limit is a traffic infraction that could lead to a citation and other legal consequences for a driver. If a driver is responsible for causing a car accident while breaking a VSL in Texas, he or she can be held liable (financially responsible) for the wreck.

 If you get injured in a car accident that takes place on a portion of the road where Texas’ new VSL law is in place, consult with a personal injury lawyer in San Antonio about your legal rights.