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After DMV meetings, Texas dune buggy owners turn to state lawmakers for help

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Photo courtesy SavetheTexasDuneBuggy.

After denying Texas dune buggy owners’ requests to reinstate the titles that the department has revoked over the last few years, Texas Department of Motor Vehicles officials have also rejected the series of recommendations that the Assembled Vehicle Coalition of Texas presented them, leading members of the coalition to seek a solution through the state’s legislature.

“It just doesn’t feel like they want to play ball with us,” Faron Smith said of the state officials he met with in working-group meetings earlier this year. “It seems like they’re just pushing us off, waiting for us to drop it.”

The working-group meetings, scheduled in response to the Assembled Vehicle Coalition’s petitioning of the state’s department of motor vehicles, took place at the end of February and again at the end of April and were ostensibly held to allow the coalition, the department, and others – including officials from SEMA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – to hammer out a definition for kit cars and dune buggies and to determine how those vehicles could comply with state laws.

As Jeremiah Kuntz, the director of vehicle titles and registration for the department, pointed out in a December meeting of the department’s board of directors, the state currently has no definition for dune buggies yet the department has, since 2014, categorically prohibiting titling and licensing dune buggies via Texas Administrative Rule 217.3 (6) and has used that rule to revoke titles for dune buggies registered in the state.

In those working-group meetings, Smith and the coalition recommended that the department reinstate previously revoked titles, that the department amend Administrative Rule 217.3 (6) to remove language giving the department broad powers to determine what constitutes a dune buggy, and that the state legislature step in with a new definition for assembled vehicles permissible under state law. It also recommended that the department strengthen its inspection procedures “to ensure assembled vehicles as amended meet current certification by a Certified Master Automobile and Light Truck Technician.”

In response, the department officials told coalition members that “whatever we give them doesn’t meet federal motor vehicle safety standards,” Smith said. “We don’t want frankencars either, but nobody really knows how dune buggies fit into the federal motor vehicle safety standards, and (department officials) really don’t know anything about dune buggies period.” Smith also noted the department’s inconsistency in allowing some already titled and registered dune buggies to remain on the road while banning others and apparently putting a halt to all new registrations.

“They’ve never told us any stats on accidents caused by unsafe dune buggies, they’ve never produced the numbers of dune buggies registered in the state, so how can they arbitrarily come up with a rule when they have no statistics to back it up?” Faron asked. “It just seems the DMV has made a mistake and doesn’t know how to get out of it.”

Texas Department of Motor Vehicles officials did not respond to requests for comment on the working group meetings.

Finding the department uncooperative, Smith said the coalition has since started working with its lobbyist to ask state lawmakers to step in and to draft a bill that would provide a means for dune buggies to be titled and registered in the state.

As the coalition pointed out, “the legislative process provides the opportunity for public and professional comment at a level and in a format that simply isn’t as fully promulgated by the regulatory agencies.”

Texas State Representative Ed Thompson has already voiced support for the coalition by requesting that the department rescind its ban. Smith said several other lawmakers appear on board as well, and Kuntz said about 20 state legislators have called the department regarding the issue.

In the face of such uncertainty, Smith said that dune buggy owners in the state have either sold their vehicles out of state, pushed their projects off into a corner, or circumvented the department altogether by registering their vehicles out of state. “In that case, that other state gets our tax money,” he said. “But I want to do things the right way.”

That’s why he’s chosen to push his project – a Meyers Manx clone built on a 1974 Beetle pan and powered by a 1600-cc Volkswagen engine – off into a corner. Though it was a running, driving, and legal vehicle when he moved to Texas from New Mexico, he decided to rebuild it to correct some welds, repair the bodywork, and address other minor issues. It’s about 80 percent finished now, but he’s decided to wait for a resolution to the matter. “And I can think of about 100 guys who are in the same boat,” he said.

In the meantime, the coalition has continued to raise funds to pay its lobbyist through its GoFundMe page.

Additional working-group meetings between the coalition and the department have yet to be scheduled.