A question we are frequently asked is, “What is the open container law in Texas,” and whether you may be arrested for it. To find the answer to that question we turn to Section 49.031 of the Texas Penal Code.
What is Texas' Open Container Law?
A person violates the Texas open container law if they knowingly possess an open container of alcohol in the passenger area of a motor vehicle that is located on a public highway, regardless of whether the vehicle is being operated, stopped or parked.
What Is an "Open Container"?
First, let’s look at the definition of “open container.” Open container means a 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.
What is Considered a "Passenger Area"?
Next, let’s look at the definition of “passenger area of a motor vehicle.” The passenger area of a motor vehicle means the area of a motor vehicle designed for the seating of the operator and passengers of the vehicle, and does not include a locked glove compartment, the trunk, or the area behind the last upright seat if the vehicle doesn’t have a trunk.
How Does Texas Define "Public Highway"?
The next definition we look at is “public highway.” Public highway means the entire width between and immediately adjacent to the boundary lines of 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 term includes the right-of-way of a public highway.
Can a Passenger Drink in a Car in Texas?
No. Open containers of alcohol are prohibited anywhere in a vehicle, including the backseat, passenger's side, or driver's side.
But What if I’m in an Uber, Lyft, Taxi, or Limousine?
You’re good! You cannot be ticketed! The open container law in Texas does not apply to the passenger areas of a motor vehicle designed, maintained, or used primarily for the transportation of persons for compensation, including a bus, Uber, Lyft, GetMe, taxicab, or limousine.
What Is the Punishment for an Open Container in Texas?
Violation of the open container law in Texas is a Class C misdemeanor and bears a maximum fine of $500.
Can I Be Arrested for Having Open Alcohol in the Car?
No. In fact, this is one of only two criminal laws in Texas that you cannot be arrested for! (The other is speeding.) A police officer can only write you a ticket. As long as you sign the ticket promising to appear in court, you cannot be arrested.
So What Can a Cop Do?
The Texas Penal Code explicitly states what a cop can do: “A peace officer charging a person with an offense under this section, instead of taking the person before a magistrate, shall issue to the person a written citation and notice to appear that contains the time and place the person must appear before a magistrate, the name and address of the person charged, and the offense charged. If the person makes a written promise to appear before the magistrate by signing in duplicate the citation and notice to appear issued by the officer, the officer shall release the person.”
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