Texas has a system of graduated driving privileges that gives teen drivers more freedom the older, and more experienced behind the wheel, they become. Those under 18 are subject to passenger restrictions and curfews in an attempt to allow them to gain experience while limiting accidents.

Texas Graduated License System

The two-stage system begins when a teen turns 15. Anyone over the age of 15, with parental consent and who meets the qualifying conditions, can apply for an “instruction permit.” The permit allows the teen to drive when accompanied by a licensed adult driver. A permit, in Texas, does not allow a teen to drive without a supervising driver in the vehicle.

A teen driver must have their learner’s permit for at least six months before being allowed to take a driving test for a provisional license. Once they have held the permit for six months, they can schedule a road test, and upon passing, be issued a provisional license.

What is a Provisional License?

A provisional license allows the teen, between the ages of 16 and 17 to drive unaccompanied, but with numerous restrictions. To qualify for a provisional license, the teen must also have completed the behind the wheel portion of driver education and have completed the Impact Texas Teen Driver Program within the previous ninety days of taking the skills test.

The Impact Texas Teen Driver Program is a free one-hour educational video over the dangers of distracted driving. Given that distracted driving is one of the primary causes of serious and fatal accidents across the country, the video is a good idea for all Texas drivers but only required for those getting their first driver’s license.

Curfews and Restrictions of a Provisional License

Once a teen has their provisional license, they are still not free to hit the road whenever they please. Teens with a provisional license are not allowed to drive between the hours of midnight and 5:00 a.m. unless it is for the purpose of employment, to participate in a school-sanctioned activity, or for a medical emergency.

Provisional licenses also limit teens from driving with more than one passenger under the age of 21 for the first year of holding their license. Exceptions are made for immediate family members, such as siblings.

All teens who have a provisional license are barred from the use of a cell phone or wireless device in any way, including hands-free while driving. Doing so can result in the suspension of the provisional license as well as fines.

What Happens When They Turn 18?

A provisional license expires when the driver turns 18, or the next birthday after the license is issued, whichever is later. At that time, they must apply for a permanent license. The word provisional will be removed and they will then have full, unrestricted driving privileges.

Texas has Zero Tolerance for Minors Driving After Drinking Alcohol

Texas has Zero Tolerance laws for minors, making it a criminal offense for anyone under the age of 21 to have any detectable amount of alcohol in their system while driving. Punishment for driving drunk can include license suspension, fines, and the requirement to attend educational programs about alcohol.

Texas defines a minor as anyone under the age of 21. Any detectable amount of alcohol can be charged as a criminal offense of Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol by a Minor (DUIA), and the 0.08% BAC limit does not apply. If the minor does not have a driver’s license, the minor’s driving privileges will be denied for the same length as the suspension of a license.

Texas takes its stance on minors and alcohol seriously. Minors can, and often are, charged as adults for DWs. That means that Driving While Intoxicated can result in a minor being charged with a Class B Misdemeanor for their first offense, a fine not to exceed $2,000, drivers license suspension, and confinement in jail that can range from 72 hours to 180 days. Possession of an open container of alcohol increases the minimum term of confinement to six days.

Minors can be charged as adults for alcohol and drug-related offenses. When charged as an adult, a first offense for Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) is a Class B Misdemenaor. Penalties for a conviction can include:

  • A fine not to exceed $2,000.00
  • Confinement in jail of 72 hours to 180 days
  • Driver license suspension for 90 days to 365 days.

The court may probate the jail sentence and waive the driver’s license suspension for a first offense ONLY. Possession of an open container of an alcoholic beverage increases the minimum term of confinement to 6 days.

City Curfews

Some cities around the state operate a more restrictive curfew for teens. Dallas prohibits anyone under 17 from driving during school hours and the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. on weekdays. There are exceptions for employment-related driving, emergencies, or if the parent is in the car. Parents and teens should know the restrictions for the town or city in which they live.

Texas wants to keep young drivers safe on its roadways, and the graduated driving program and zero-tolerance policies are an effort to keep teens safe. Teen drivers make up a disproportionate amount of car accidents on Texas roads.