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Texas legislator introduces bill to protect state’s dune buggies and assembled vehicles

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Photo by C Watts.

Though Texas’ H.B. 1755 doesn’t once mention dune buggies or sand rails by name, it very well could end the state’s ongoing ban on dune buggy registrations and provide a means for dune buggy owners with revoked titles to make their vehicles legal again.

Texas state law already has a section that covers assembled vehicles, but H.B. 1755, which Texas State Representative Ed Thompson introduced earlier this month, would replace that section and redefine assembled vehicles to effectively include dune buggies, sand rails, and kit cars. Most notably, the bill would define an assembled vehicle as “a passenger car or light truck that… is materially altered from its original construction (and) may be assembled from various parts of various vehicles and kits.” The bill also would ensure that the definition of assembled vehicle applies “regardless of whether the assembled vehicle… is constructed for both recreational off-road use and on-road use.”

Faron Smith, founder of the Save the Texas Dune Buggy Facebook group, said the bill wouldn’t automatically reinstate dune buggy titles that the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles has previously revoked, but it would provide a clear path to titling and registering dune buggies that doesn’t currently exist.

“This might seem like a small deal, but it’s drawing a lot of positive attention,” he said, noting that the bill, under development for months, has the approval and backing of the Specialty Equipment Market Association.

Under existing state regulations, specifically Texas Administrative Rule 217.3 (6), any vehicle “designed or determined by the department to be a dune buggy” is considered ineligible for a Texas title. As a result, in 2014 the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles began to revoke dune buggy titles, noting in its revocation letters that the state considers dune buggies and sand rails “designed for off-road usage and may not be legally operated for use on Texas streets or public roadways.”

The problem with 217.3, according to Smith, was that it outlawed dune buggies but failed to provide a legal definition for them. While the Texas DMV has put a halt to the revocation of dune buggy titles due largely to pressure from Smith’s group, the set of working group meetings that the department conducted last year resulted only in a proposed definition for dune buggies that would have upheld the ban on all but the few stock-wheelbase dune buggies in Texas.

With no resolution to the ongoing titling of dune buggies, Smith and his group decided to pursue a legislative solution to the situation, recruiting Thompson, a state representative who has already called for the DMV to rescind its ban.

To ensure that the bill won’t put unsafe dune buggies on the road, the bill specifically excludes from the definition of assembled vehicle any car or truck that “uses the frame or body of a vehicle that has been declared nonrepairable or junked.” The bill also includes language specifying the safety equipment an assembled vehicle needs to pass inspection in Texas along with the requirement that assembled vehicles pass an annual ASE-certified inspection process.

“It’s the right way to do it,” Smith said. “It’s always nice to have a second set of eyes when building a car anyways.”

Smith said he does expect some pushback on the bill from the Texas Automobile Dealers Association, the group that he suspects was behind the dune buggy ban in the first place. TADA’s reasoning, Smith said, likely doesn’t stem from any particular dislike of dune buggies, rather from the group’s fear that allowing any alternative to the traditional car dealer business model will open the door to direct sales from manufacturers to consumers. Representatives from TADA did not return calls for comment on this story.

H.B. 1755 has been assigned to the Texas House’s transportation committee, on which Thompson serves. Smith said he expects to see a companion bill introduced shortly in the Texas Senate and that he hopes to have the bills passed sometime before this September.