Myths about drunk driving abound, and many Texans find themselves inadvertently breaking DWI laws simply because they don’t know how those laws work in the first place. Open container law in Texas is a great example of this.
Texas law prohibits possession of open alcohol containers in motor vehicles. But that same law doesn’t necessarily apply to certain areas in the car or to passengers riding in some types of vehicles. Below, we explain the penalties, exceptions, and dimensions involved so that you can be better equipped fight against the charges against you. To learn more about DWI defense contact Hoeller & McLaughlin PLLC today.
What Is an “Open Container”?
An “open container” is a can, bottle, or other receptacle that contains any alcoholic beverage that is open, has a seal broken, or has some removed contents. This can include beer cans, spirit bottles, wine coolers, flasks, plastic bottles, Styrofoam cups, and more.
Where Possession of an Open Container Is Prohibited
Open container law in Texas prohibits possession of alcoholic beverages in the passenger area inside your motor vehicle. If your vehicle is on a public highway, it does not matter if you’re driving, stopped, or parked — possession of an open container is a criminal offense.
The “passenger area of your car” is the space in which the driver and other passengers sit. However, it does not include:
- a locked glove box or other similarly locked compartment,
- the trunk of your car, or
- the space between the end of the inside vehicle cabin and the last upright seat (if there isn’t any trunk space).
A “public highway” is any:
- public street,
- highway, right-of-way, or
- other area in public where motor vehicles are allowed to travel.
Exceptions to Open Container Law in Texas
There are some types of vehicles where the law doesn’t apply to passengers. A passenger can legally possess open containers of alcohol in the following:
- the passenger area of a vehicle used as transportation of people for compensation (including buses, taxis, and limousines), and
- the living area of motor homes, self-contained campers, or other types of recreational vehicles.
In regular cars, exceptions apply to open containers of alcohol to be stored in locked compartments. This may include a locked glove box or other similar compartments that lock, or the trunk of your car. If your vehicle does not have a trunk, you can keep an open container behind your last upright seat inside the cabin.
Penalties to Open Container Law in Texas
If caught with an open container in your vehicle, you will receive a written citation. You will also receive a notice to appear before a judge. All you need to do to get released is sign that notice, which promises that you will appear before the court at a later time. Keep in mind that possessing more than one open alcohol container is considered a single offense.
The maximum fine for an open container is $500, and is considered a Class C misdemeanor.
If you are arrested for DWI (driving while intoxicated) and are convicted, possessing an open container in the car can increase your penalties. For example, your first offense of DWI carries a minimum three day jail sentence. But if your first DWI conviction involved the possession of an open container, your minimum jail sentence increases to six days.
In addition, Texas law makes it illegal to assemble or operate an amusement ride under the influence of alcohol. Similar to DWI, if you possess an open container while you violate that amusement ride law, your minimum jail sentence increases from three to six days.
Speak to a Fort Worth TX DWI Attorney
If you were charged for violating open container law in Texas, an experienced DWI attorney can help you successfully defend the charges against you. Even simple charge as this can be used as illegitimate evidence for a DWI. Don’t try to tackle this alone. At Hoeller & McLaughlin PLLC, we can help you understand your rights and explain your options. Contact us today to get started on your defense.