Transportation Code, Criminal Law, Traffic Stops
March-April 2024

An at-a-glance guide to traffic violations in the Transportation Code

By Joe Hooker
TDCAA Assistant Training Director in Austin

To the uninitiated, it would be reasonable to believe that the Transportation Code should be a common sense, easy-to-use book of regulations regarding the rules of the road and necessary vehicle equipment that almost every Texan interacts with on a daily basis.

To us unfortunate souls who have looked inside the maddening 3,000-page text, though, it seems possible that the code writers have never actually seen a vehicle, and their one goal was to make sure that no part of a vehicle or driving scenario was called by its common name. It would not be a huge issue except for the fact that many, if not most, criminal cases start with a traffic stop for a violation of the Transportation Code.

            Although TDCAA has yet to conduct a study on this, we would wager that the six most common words that prosecutors hear daily when discussing a case with opposing counsel is, “There’s a problem with the stop.” From justice-of-the-peace courts to capital murder appeals, the State’s case often hinges on whether an officer had probable cause to stop a defendant’s vehicle for a traffic violation. (Timothy McVeigh, the perpetrator of the Oklahoma City Bombing, was caught after being stopped because his vehicle was missing a rear license plate.)[1] Therefore, it is imperative that prosecutors are familiar both with the most common traffic violations as well as lesser-known ones that give rise to a probable cause stop. It should be remembered that many jurisdictions have local traffic ordinances that can also provide law enforcement probable cause for a traffic stop.

            Officers should clearly state in their reports the traffic violation that gave rise to a stop. If more than one traffic violation is observed, those other violations should also be included. When questioning an officer during a motion to suppress or at trial, prosecutors should develop the testimony regarding the officer’s observation of the traffic violation as well as have the officer state the section of the Transportation Code on which the stop was based. If more than one violation occurred, the officer should inform the judge or jury of each violation and its corresponding section in the Transportation Code. If the traffic violation can be observed on the officer’s dashcam video, the officer should testify to what can be seen in the video, as well as make sure the proper time stamps are on the record for appellate purposes. Even if an officer incorrectly states the law that was used to justify a traffic stop, a traffic stop may still be justified if there was in fact a violation of the Transportation Code,[2] so it is important that the officer testify to the actual observations of the vehicle and its movements rather than just conclusory statements about what traffic violations were committed.

            On the next six pages is a quick guide to common traffic violations using everyday language, plus each offense’s corresponding section of the Transportation Code; I’ve included a note where additional explanation is helpful. Of course, please check the Code to make sure that the driving elements for your case match the elements of the Code. Much more extensive charts along with annotations can be found in several TDCAA publications, including Transportation Code Crimes & License Suspensions, Traffic Stops, and Texas Crimes. Texas Crimes charts all the crimes in the state that are not found in the Penal Code and covers 26 different Texas codes.


[1] See and; the YouTube video is of Sheriff Charlie Hanger describing the traffic stop as well as partial dashcam video of the stop itself. The unavailability of the judge for arraignment due to the judge’s son missing the school bus is most likely the main reason that McVeigh was still in custody when the FBI discovered he was the Oklahoma City Bomber.

[2] Coleman v. State, 188 S.W.3d 708, 716 (Tex. App.—Tyler 2005, pet. ref’d).