Planning a vacation or road trip soon? You might want to research the open container law in Texas before you go. As much money as the state spends on anti-DWI initiatives and ad campaigns, they don’t exactly use as much resources to inform people how open containers and DWI laws in Texas actually work.
As a result, many Texans find themselves breaking laws by mistake because they don’t understand how the laws actually work in the first place. Drunk driving myths still abound, and the open container law in Texas is a perfect example.
There are more dimensions to open container laws in Texas than some would think. What you don’t know could land you with some expensive criminal charges. Get the full story on our open container law in Texas and know the facts every Texan driver should know before you go out this weekend.
Texas Open Container Law History
The Texas open container law history is surprisingly straightforward. However, changes around open containers, DWI and expungement make it difficult to keep current on every nuance of the laws. The open container law as we know it today was passed in 2001. The open container law in Texas was a significant part of our state becoming more strict on drinking and driving.
What Counts as an Open Container in Texas
To understand Texas open container laws, it’s important to know what actually constitutes an “open container”. In the state of Texas, an open container refers to any unsealed bottle, can, flask or other device used to hold alcohol. For example, a half consumed bottle of vodka or an open can of beer would count as an open container of alcohol. A fully sealed bottle of booze, on the other hand, would not.
In order for an open container of alcohol to turn into a crime, it must be in the “passenger area” of the motor vehicle. In other words, the open container would need to be visible and reasonably in-reach from the driver’s seat (in the cupholder, in the passenger seat, rolling around in the backseat etc.). An open container is not technically in the “passenger area” if it is:
- In the glove compartment or another locked storage area within the vehicle
- In the trunk of your vehicle
- In the area behind your upright seat (if your vehicle doesn’t have a trunk)
Here’s another important aspect of the law: it applies whether you’re moving or stopped and parked in, on or immediately next to a public road.
Open Container Laws in Texas & Passengers
Did you know the open container law in Texas applies to passengers as well? If your friend is giving you a hard time about bringing a roadie along as a rider, he isn’t doing it just to be mean. That open container is technically in the “passenger area”, both the passenger with the alcohol and the driver of the vehicle can be charged with possession of an open container, even if the driver is 100% sober.
Texas Open Container Law Exceptions
The Texas open container law does make some exceptions for a few reasonable situations. For example, if you are passenger in a taxi, bus, train, or limo, you may be able to claim an exception against Texas open container law.
Also, if you have a recreational vehicle (RV), self-contained trailer or motorhome, you may meet the other Texas open container law exception. Open containers in the living quarters of these vehicles are generally not considered a violation of the law. Do keep in mind that every situation is different and could change drastically if you are committing other crimes in the process.
Open Container Penalties in Texas
In the state of Texas, possession of an open container is a Class C Misdemeanor—in other words, it’s a traffic ticket. As long as your blood alcohol concentration is below .08 and you aren’t committing any other crimes in the process, you/your buddies will be issued a ticket and a fine. The open container fine in Texas is no more than $500.
An open container violation is not the same as a DWI. This means that the open container law in Texas does not put you at risk of jail time or an immediate arrest so long as you are sober at the time of the traffic stop. That said, an open container charge could become much more severe if you are found in DWI probation violation or if you have suffered a DWI license suspension in Texas from a previous DWI.
You should also know that if you’re actually caught in the act of drinking and driving, the open container misdemeanor will be the least of your worries. Being caught drinking while driving will likely lead to other, more serious charges, possibly including DWI.
Remember, a Class C Misdemeanor may not be harmless. A misdemeanor from the Texas open container law could affect college admissions and financial aid for students, employment and potentially licensure for professionals, as well as higher insurance costs.
Defenses Against Texas Open Container Laws
Aside from the open container law exceptions, a range of defenses exist for the open container law in Texas. If you were subject to an illegal traffic stop by police or an unlawful search, you may be able to successfully defend charges with a skilled attorney.
Charged Unfairly? Contact the Thiessen Law Firm Today
Even a seemingly simple charge for an open container can be made unjustly or used as illegitimate evidence for a bogus DWI charge. If you or a loved one has been charged with DWI in Texas, don’t let time run out on your case or entrust it to a second-rate defense. Instead, hire Houston’s premier DWI lawyer, Mark Thiessen and his team at the Thiessen Law Firm.
As a Super Lawyer and a Lawyer-Scientist, Mark has what it takes to beat both blood and breath results in court and has even won cases for charges as severe as intoxication manslaughter. If your freedom is on the line, don’t wait another moment—contact Thiessen Law Firm today to schedule your free consultation.
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