What is the open container law in Texas? Can I be arrested for having open alcohol in the car?
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.
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.
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 not have a trunk.
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.
Now that we have the key phrases defined let’s jump into the law…
In Texas, a person violates the open container law if the person knowingly possesses an open container in a passenger area of a motor vehicle that is located on a public highway, regardless of whether the vehicle is being operated or is stopped or parked.
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 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 violating the open container law in Texas?
No! In fact, this is one of only two criminal laws in Texas that you cannot be arrested for! (The other is speeding.) 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.”
So what can a cop do?
Only write you a ticket! As long as you sign the ticket promising to appear in court, you cannot be arrested.
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