The law is always changing, as it should: the law reflects the needs of the society or community that writes them. However, when those laws address specific needs that no longer apply (or have no context), you end up with legal codes that appear more and more ridiculous over time.
Thankfully, many of those laws aren’t enforced or have been overwritten by recent ones. Still, these laws technically exist—and if anything, are good for giving us a peek at what life must have been like in small towns all over Texas a century ago (or even more recently). Some of these laws have context, but in many cases, we have no idea what led to their creation, much less their passage!
Let’s take a look at some of the weirdest ones below:
1. No Concealed Carry of Wire Cutters
In Austin, you’re not allowed to carry wire cutters in your pocket. Allegedly, it came from a time when ranchers disputed over open ranges vs. fencing off their land. Instead of addressing who was right, the law prevented ranchers from cutting each other’s fences by making it illegal to carry wire cutters.
2. No Eating Your Neighbor’s Garbage
This one doesn’t have context, but there are some towns in Texas where it is illegal to dig into your neighbor’s trash for food (or anything else). You can be charged with property theft, and even trespassing. Raccoons, take note.
3. Marriage via Proclamation
Texas is a common law marriage state, which means you are considered legally married if the couple makes three public announcements that they’re married. Moreover, a couple can be considered legally married even if the other spouse isn’t present for the ceremony.
The only requirements are:
- Both parties are willing participants
- Both parties are over 18
- Parties are unrelated to each other
4. Permit Required to Walk Barefoot
In some cities, you’re required to purchase a $5 permit before walking around barefoot. Doing otherwise is a violation of the city’s code governing “sanitation and appearance.”
5. Spittoons Required
El Paso has a law on the books requiring spittoons in church, assembly halls, hotels, banks, stores, train depots, and saloons. Technically, they’re required “of a kind and number to efficiently contain expectorations into them,” so even just a single spittoon might do these days.
While we don’t have the specific story behind this law, it’s not hard to imagine that El Paso was perhaps dealing with an excess of spit in public spaces. It’s one of those situations where we’re glad this law is no longer necessary.
6. No Shooting Buffalo from the Balcony
In case you were hoping to hunt from the window of your local Best Western or Howard Johnson, Texas law prohibits shooting buffalo from the second story of your hotel. While we don’t have the law codes regarding buffalo-shooting committed to memory, we can safely assume that you’re not allowed to shoot them from any other floor, either.
7. Your Horse Needs Taillights
Sometimes, a strange law can still make sense. That’s how you end up with a law like this one from Texarkana: it’s only legal to ride your horse at night if it has taillights. Which we have to admit, as safety advocates, seems like a pretty good idea.
8. Windshield Wipers Required (But Not Windshields)
As it turns out, although Texas does not require driving with a windshield (allowing owners of vehicles like the Jeep Wrangler or Jeep Gladiator to fold down their windshields), Texas does require windshield wipers.
9. Illegal to Drive Within Arm’s Length of Alcohol
There’s a law in Lubbock stating that it is illegal to drive within arm’s length of alcohol. Which makes sense—if you’re trying to prevent drinking and driving, it’s only sensible to make it illegal for drivers to drive with alcohol in reach. Except this law technically applies to alcohol in someone else’s bloodstream. If you’re going to be a designated driver, you’ll either need to put your passenger in the back or have short arms.
10. Paying a Ticket Is a Guilty Plea
In some states, paying a fine for a traffic ticket is not an admission of guilt. That’s not the case in Texas. Paying a traffic fine is the easiest way to resolve a citation, but it also technically waives your right to a hearing by entering a guilty plea.
11. No Confetti, Firecrackers, or Whips
We don’t know what might have necessitated this, but the town of Borger, TX forbids the throwing of confetti, rubber balls, and firecrackers in city limits.
12. No “Odor Emissions” in the Elevator
This is one of those laws you might wish was illegal in your town. In Port Arthur, TX, it’s illegal to “emit obnoxious odors” in the elevator. While that could mean any number of emissions, there’s one in particular that would be heinous in an enclosed space.
13. Permit for Getting Drunk
This law is actually about what is permitted under the law, rather than what’s not allowed. It is obviously illegal in some Texas towns to be drunk in public spaces, at least to the degree that you’re a nuisance or a danger to others. However, in some towns, you can allegedly request a permit from the Director of Parks & Recreation to get drunk in a city park.
If we had to guess the truth, this law is less a situation where someone is requesting permission to get drunk, and more a liquor license request you can make for outdoor events in the city park—a far more reasonable requirement under the law.
Still, it makes for an interesting explanation!
14. Against the Law for Kids to Have an Unusual Haircut
This is another law where the actual legal code couldn’t be confirmed, but it is allegedly illegal for children to have unusual haircuts in Mesquite, TX. While we don’t know if any court would uphold the enforcement of that law, it’s still interesting to note how and when the law governed personal conduct or fashion.
15. A 150-Year-Old Law that Wreaks Havoc Today
While many of these laws are (mostly) harmless, there are outdated laws that cause a great deal of harm because they’re outdated. For instance, the Limited Liability Act of 1851 was originally written for a maritime industry that lacked weather forecast technology or satellite communication. It was written so that maritime companies couldn’t be sued for more than the cost of a ship if they suffered a disaster at sea.
Today, that same law is used to rob maritime workers of their right to recovery after their employers sail them into hurricanes or leave them stranded in life-threatening conditions. It’s a law that no longer applies, but still gets used by some of the largest maritime companies in existence.
Using the Law to Protect Our Clients’ Lives
The law is a powerful thing. While we can point to some silly (or downright harmful) laws on the books, there’s no question that our lives are deeply affected by the law. As plaintiff attorneys, we believe the law can do the most good when it’s used to help the injured rebuild their lives.
That’s why we’ve committed ourselves to representing the victims of every kind of accident—so they can get everything they need to recover. No matter what.