Texas’ drinking and driving laws can be confusing to understand. That’s especially true when it comes to the state's open container law. If you are charged with violating this law, the penalties can be severe, especially if other driving while intoxicated (DWI) violations come into play.
This is why you need a DWI lawyer handling your case if you have been charged with violating Texas’ open container law. An experienced DWI defense attorney can review your charges, answer your questions, and explain your potential legal options.
What is Texas’ open container law?
Texas Penal Code § 49.031 (2022) is the state’s official Open Container Law. This law is part of Texas Penal Code Title 10 (Offenses Against Public Health, Safety, and Morals), Chapter 49 (Intoxication and Alcoholic Beverage Offenses), Section 49.031 (Possession of Alcoholic Beverage in Motor Vehicle).
In Texas, an open container refers to any “bottle, can, or other receptacle that contains any amount of alcoholic beverage and that is open, that has been opened, that has a broken seal, or the contents of which are partially removed,” according to the state statute.
According to the Texas Open Container Law, an open container holding alcohol is not allowed in a vehicle on a public highway, which Texas defines as “any public road, street, highway, interstate, or other publicly maintained way if any part is open for public use for the purpose of motor vehicle travel.”
The state’s open container rules also apply to drivers and all passengers in the vehicle. For example, if a driver is sober but a passenger has an open can of beer, both the driver and the passenger are in violation of Texas’ Open Container Law.
Are there exceptions to Texas’ open container law?
An open container of alcohol can be allowed in a vehicle in Texas, provided that the open container is stored in one of the following areas in the vehicle:
- A locked glove compartment.
- The trunk of the vehicle.
- The area behind the last upright seat in a vehicle without a trunk.
One exception to Texas’ Open Container Law involves recreational vehicles (RVs) and motor homes. The living area of an RV is not considered the passenger area of a motor vehicle. As a result, it is legal to have an open alcohol container in the living area of an RV.
Another exception involves passengers in a bus, taxi, or limousine. In Texas, it is legal for passengers to have an open container of alcohol in these vehicles.
Is having an open container in a parked car legal?
In many cases, no. It is against the law. The same open container rules apply in Texas, whether the vehicle is in motion or parked on a public way. The common exception to this law is tailgating at sporting events. Many colleges, universities, and sports arenas have designated areas where tailgating and consumption of alcohol are legal.
Is it legal to transport a previously opened bottle?
As explained above, you can transport an open container of alcohol under certain circumstances in Texas. In general, as long as the open container is in the trunk or locked glove box of your vehicle, you are complying with Texas’ Open Container Law.
Can you transport an open container in the trunk?
Yes. It is perfectly legal to transport an open container of alcohol in the trunk of your vehicle in Texas.
What is the penalty for an open container charge?
A violation of Texas’ Open Container Law is a Class C Misdemeanor. As a result, the penalties can be a fine of up to $500.
However, the penalties can be even more severe if the open container violation is part of a DWI charge. In that particular case, violation of Texas’ Open Container Law is considered a Class B Misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and a jail term of 6 to 180 days.
Why you need an experienced Texas DWI defense attorney
Open container violations can quickly turn into complicated legal cases. This is why it’s critical that you have an experienced Texas DWI defense lawyer who knows the law and can work with you to build a strong legal defense.
As a former prosecutor, attorney Amanda Webb understands how the state’s criminal justice system works. We can review your criminal charges and explain which legal strategy makes the most sense in your particular case.
Take your charges seriously right from the start. Contact The Webb Firm, P.C., and schedule a free consultation to see how we can help you. We are available 24/7 and handle cases in the Houston Area, The Woodlands Area, Conroe, Montgomery County, and Waller County.