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State Bar of Texas

2019 Open Container Laws in Texas

Jerry W. Tidwell, Jr.
2019 Open Container Laws in Texas

Like in other states, it is illegal to drive while intoxicated in Texas. You are considered intoxicated when your BAC is at or above 0.08% and you get behind the wheel of the car. A lot of people want to know, however, if can passengers drink alcohol in a car? Is there a Texas open container law?

Many people do not realize that it’s also illegal to even have an open container of alcohol in the passenger area of your vehicle. You could receive an open container ticket, or worse, you could be facing criminal charges.

If you have questions about Texas’ open container law or need assistance with fighting criminal charges, it’s important to contact a Texas criminal defense attorney.

Texas Open Container Law

The Texas open container law was passed in 2001 and is covered under Texas Penal Code Section 49.031. Under the statute, an open container is more than just having an open can of beer in your vehicle. It is applied to any type of container that contains alcohol inside. Examples include:

  • Can
  • Cup
  • Flask
  • Bottle
  • Glass

You can also be in trouble for any other vessel, including your own water bottle or a leftovers container. Once you understand what the law defines as a container, you have to know what constitutes as open. A container is considered open even if the lid is on the container, but the “seal” is broken, or a portion of the contents are removed.

What about the passenger area of your vehicle? What does the law consider the passenger area? In general, it’s the front or back seats where people can sit in the vehicle. The passenger area does not include a trunk, locked glove compartment, or the area behind the last upright seat in a truck or car (if your vehicle doesn’t have a trunk.)

In the event you have multiple containers in the vehicle when you’re stopped, it will not be a separate charge for each one. It will just be one charge, but it’s still one that you should avoid. If you are leaving a friend’s party or a restaurant, lock the alcohol up in the trunk just to be safe.

Exceptions to Texas Open Container Laws

There are some cases where an exception to the open container laws will apply. For example, if you are a passenger on a train, bus, or in a taxi or limo, you could try to claim an exception to the open container laws. If you have a self-contained trailer, recreational vehicle (RV), or a motorhome, you may qualify under the other open container law exception. If you have an open container in what is considered to be the living quarters, the exception will generally apply. However, this is not an absolute law/rule, especially if you are committing other crimes in the process.

Texas Open Container Penalties

Texas considers possession of an open container to be a Class C Misdemeanor. This means it’s essentially a traffic ticket provided your BAC is below 0.08 and you were not committing any other crime at the time you were stopped. You and/or your passengers will be issued a ticket to pay a fine. The maximum fine is $500.

Some people think an open container is like a DWI. It is not, so that means you are not at risk for any jail time or being arrested when you’re pulled over, provided you are sober at the time. If you are on a DWI probation, or if you’ve had a DWI license suspension, the penalties can be much more severe.

Don’t be fooled though. A Class C Misdemeanor is not necessarily harmless. It could affect you down the line in a number of different ways. You could have difficulty with college applications, financial aid, increased insurance premiums, denial of business licenses, loans, apartment applications, and more.

Defense to an Open Container Ticket in Texas

In addition to the aforementioned exemptions, there may be a defense that is available in your particular situation as well. For example, if the traffic stop was illegal, or the officer conducted an unlawful search, then you may have a successful defense. A Texas criminal defense attorney can help you prepare a list of defenses and help you fight the charges.

Were You Charged Unfairly? Contact a Texas Criminal Defense Attorney Today

If you received an open container ticket or were charged with a crime in connection with the traffic stop, it’s important to talk with a Texas criminal defense attorney right away. Contact the Tidwell Law Firm, PLLC today to schedule an initial consultation. Let one of our skilled attorneys prepare the best defense possible in hopes of getting the charges reduced or dismissed entirely.

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