A hoax e-mail is making the rounds warning drivers of changes in Texas motor vehicle laws.

The e-mail claims the new laws became effective July 1 and warn drivers of stiff fines for offenses such as driving in the high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane without a passenger and driving on the shoulder.

It also claims those caught using cell phones while driving will face a $285 fine.

The problem with the e-mail is that none of the information it contains seems to be true.

New Texas traffic laws do not take effect in July. The laws are generally implemented Sept. 1.

Several Texas newspapers, including the Houston Chronicle, say the e-mail is thought to have originated in California.

DPS spokeswoman Tela Mange told a Houston Chronicle reporter the e-mail is completely false.

After receiving a large number of phone calls about the e-mail, the Texas Department of Public Safety issued an alert to the public on its Web site July 3.

“False information has been circulating regarding new traffic laws. There are no new traffic laws going into effect in July. More specifically, there are no new laws going into effect in July related to cell phones, seat belts or carpooling. No cell phone bills were passed this Legislative session. (This misinformation started as the result of an inaccurate e-mail and incorrect information on various Web sites.) DPS has not compiled a list of new traffic laws going into effect in September at this time,” the warning stated.

The e-mail message ends with a warning to use only a hands-free cell phone while driving. “(Police) will be looking for this like crazy — easy money for police department,” it reads.

Some believe that small town police officers are in the business of writing tickets in order to acquire funds for their cities.

Oak Ridge Police Chief Janet Van Patton said that is not true.

“It doesn’t matter if I write one ticket or if I write 50 tickets. It doesn’t affect my pay,” she said.

The only thing she said she asks of her officers is that they do their jobs, that includes giving motorists warning citations, making traffic stops and handing out tickets when necessary.

She said police departments are not getting rich by writing tickets. Police officers write tickets “for safer streets,” Van Patton said, not to rake in big bucks.

A high percentage of the money the city of Oak Ridge and other small communities take in from traffic tickets goes to the state when the offense occurs on a state highway such as U.S. Highway 82 in Oak Ridge.

For example, she said, if a traffic fine costs the driver $112, the city turns over $93 of that fine to the state and keeps the balance.

As for updates on new traffic laws, Van Patton said they usually take effect in September.

When in doubt, officers advise motorists to check the Texas Department of Safety Web site.

The latest year for which new traffic laws went into effect is September 2005, according to the site.

On the Net: Information on Texas traffic laws: www.txdps.state.tx.us

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