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New law greenlights dune buggies in Texas, excludes sand rails for now

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Dune buggies lined up in front of the Texas capitol in Austin. Photo courtesy Save the Texas Dune Buggies.

While dune buggy enthusiasts in Texas have claimed victory over the state’s department of motor vehicles with the recent passage of legislation that will make the vehicles fully legal in the state, those who pushed for the law say they still have work to do over the coming years to extend the same protections to Texan sand rail owners.

“We are still working on it,” Faron Smith, founder of the Save the Texas Dune Buggy Facebook group and the Assembled Vehicle Coalition of Texas, said in comments to the group. “There’s still a ways to go.”

As signed into law by Texas Governor Greg Abbott this past Friday, H.B. 1755 achieves what Texas State Representative Ed Thompson set out to do when he introduced the bill in February: provide a legal definition for assembled vehicles and make it possible to title and register those vehicles in the state.

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.”

Negotiations with the Texas DMV last year resulted only in a proposed definition for dune buggies with which neither side was satisfied, so Smith turned to Thompson, a car enthusiast, to write legislation that would make it possible to once again title and register dune buggies in Texas. H.B. 1755 doesn’t mention dune buggies by name, but it does redefine assembled vehicles as any motor vehicle that “has a motor, body, and frame; and is built or assembled by a hobbyist” and requires that they go through an inspection by a master technician before the state issues a title for them.

The exact processes of titling and registering the assembled vehicles will be left up to the Texas DMV, which will have to finalize its rulemaking process prior to September 1, when H.B. 1755 takes effect.

Though H.B. 1755 may not mention dune buggies by name, it does mention sand rails where it specifically excepts them from street use by designating them “off-highway vehicles.”

According to Emily Jewell Knaub, Thompson’s legislative director and a liaison to Smith’s group, the exception was a necessary move to get H.B. 1755 passed after one state senator raised some concerns.

“Sand Rails… look very close to off-road ATV-like vehicles, and DMV’s concerns were they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the two, no matter how we defined it,” Knaub told the group. “Keeping Sand Rails in that section was going to be an issue with moving the bill further, honestly. So a compromise that we decided on was to move Sand Rails under the off-road designation in a different section of code, Chapter 663. This means that sand rails will be registered, not titled, and you’ll be able to drive them on restricted roads, but you can drive them freely on beaches and state parks.”

The exception has not sat well with sand rail owners within Smith’s group, some of whom complained that they now felt left out of a group that they had supported for months or even years.

Smith said he understands their frustrations and asked for some patience from sand rail owners as he and the group’s lobbyist work to eliminate that exception.

“We’re going to try to do that right now (in the rulemaking process), and if that doesn’t work then we’ll try to change it in the legislature when they meet next in two years,” he said. “I think we’ll get everything through.”

He noted that even without further action, sand rail owners can now at least drive their vehicles on state-owned land and some restricted roads; prior to the law’s passage, they could only technically drive their vehicles on private property.

In addition to legalizing dune buggies and other assembled vehicles, H.B. 1755 also includes provisions for titling and registering HMMWVs and other (non-tracked) former military vehicles.