Houston Criminal Law Blog


Texas Open Container Laws: Is It Ever Legal?


Open Container Laws in Texas

Most people know that Texas law enforcement works hard to keep intoxicated motorists off of public roads and highways. Texas has a notorious reputation for being tough on cases of drunk or intoxicated driving. However, some people may wonder if passengers in a motor vehicle are allowed to drink while riding in a vehicle, as long as they don’t get behind the wheel. Although this may seem like a harmless activity, law enforcement in Texas may not necessarily see it that way.

While it is true that several states allow passengers in motor vehicles to possess open alcohol containers, that’s not always the case in Texas. In certain circumstances, a person could face criminal charges for possessing an open container of alcohol in a vehicle, even if they are not driving.

Can Passengers Drink In A Moving Vehicle?

If someone is wondering if they can drink in a vehicle on a Texas roadway while they are a passenger, the short answer is no. According to Section 49.031 of the Texas Penal Code, it is a crime to knowingly possess an open container of alcohol while in a vehicle on a public roadway. For the purposes of this law, an open container of alcohol is:

  • An alcoholic beverage container or other receptacle which is open or has been opened
  • A container which contains some amount of alcohol or which has had alcohol partially removed
  • A receptacle which has a broken seal

When it comes right down to it, any type of open alcoholic beverage container is not allowed in the passenger area of a vehicle which is on a public Texas roadway. According to the law, the passenger area of a vehicle is all areas inside of a vehicle except for the glove compartment, the trunk or behind the last row of seats in a vehicle which has no trunk.

For the purposes of the law, the passenger area of a vehicle is the area which people occupy while operating or riding in the vehicle. There is no distinction between the driver and passenger except that a driver who has an open container may also face DWI charges if they have alcohol in their system.

Legal Exceptions

There are certain cases when it is legally permissible to have an open container of alcohol in a vehicle. As mentioned above, it is legal to have an open container in a vehicle as long as it is stored in the glove compartment, in the trunk or behind the last row of seats.

However, is is also legal to have open alcohol containers in:

  • The passenger area of a vehicle that is used to transport people for pay, such as a taxi or a limousine
  • The living area of an RV or camper

It is also legal to possess an open container of alcohol in a vehicle which is not on a public roadway or highway. For example, it is not a crime to have an open container of alcohol in a vehicle which is in a private driveway or which is on private property. However, open alcohol containers are not allowed on any public roadway, even if the vehicle is parked or stopped.

Legal Penalties

A person who is found to be in possession of an open container of alcohol in a vehicle on a public roadway may face criminal charges. If this occurs and that person is convicted, they may face punishment under a Class C misdemeanor charge.

The punishment for such a conviction is a fine of up to $500. However, if a police officer finds open alcohol containers in a vehicle, he or she may have probable cause to ask the driver to submit to a field sobriety test. If the driver has any alcohol in their system, they may be arrested and charged with DWI. An open container citation may be added onto their DWI charges, leading to enhanced penalties.

A defense attorney may argue against open container charges by claiming that the driver did not knowingly possess an open container in a vehicle. The attorney may submit evidence that the driver or passenger was unaware that there was any alcohol in the vehicle. Also, the attorney may make arrangements with the court for a plea deal so that the defendant can receive reduced penalties.

Have you been charged with having an open container in your vehicle? Contact Matthew Sharp, a tough, smart lawyer that can navigate the legal system and protect your rights. Call his office today at 713-868-6100.

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