Texas’s Open Container Law

The open container law in Texas and the consequences for possessing an open alcoholic beverage in a motor vehicle.

Texas’s open container law generally prohibits possession of open containers of alcohol in a motor vehicle. However, the law doesn’t apply to some areas of a vehicle or to passengers in certain types of vehicles. This article provides an overview of Texas’s open container law and the penalties for a violation.

Possession of Open Containers of Alcohol

Texas’s open container law prohibits possession of an open container of alcohol in the “passenger area of a motor vehicle.” If the vehicle is located on a public highway, it doesn’t matter whether the vehicle is being driven, is stopped, or parked. Possession of more than one open container of alcohol by an individual in a motor vehicle is a single offense.

The “passenger area of a motor vehicle” is the area designed for the driver and passengers of the vehicle to sit. It doesn’t include:

  • a locked glove compartment or similar compartment that is locked
  • the trunk of the vehicle, or
  • the area behind the last upright seat of the vehicle if there isn’t a trunk.

An “open container” is defined as a bottle, can, or other receptacle containing any alcoholic beverage that is open, has been open, has a broken seal, or has had some of the contents removed.

A “public highway” includes any public road, street, highway, interstate, right-of-way, or other areas open to the public for motor vehicle travel.

Exceptions

Texas’s open container law doesn’t apply to passengers in some types of vehicles. Passengers can lawfully possess an open container of alcohol in the:

  • passenger area of a motor vehicle that’s used primarily for the transportation of persons for compensation (such as a bus, taxi, or limousine), and
  • living area of a motor home, self-contained camper, or other recreational vehicle.

Another exception allows an open container of alcohol to be placed in a locked compartment such as a glove compartment or a trunk. If the vehicle doesn’t have a trunk, the open container can be placed behind the last upright seat of the vehicle.

Penalties

A person who possesses an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle will receive a written citation and a notice to appear before a judge. As long as the offender signs the notice promising to appear in court at a later date, he or she will be released.

An open container violation is a Class C misdemeanor. The maximum fine is $500.

Additionally, possessing an open container can enhance the penalties for a DWI (driving while intoxicated) conviction. While the minimum jail sentence for a first DWI is normally three days, a first DWI conviction involving possession of an open container carries a minimum sentence of six days in jail.

Texas also has a law that makes it illegal to operate or assemble an amusement ride while intoxicated. As with a DWI, possessing an open container while violating the amusement ride law increases the minimum jail sentence from three to six days.

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