Can Passengers Drink Alcohol in a Car?

Texas is known for doing things a little differently than other parts of the country. Even so, it’s among the majority of states that outlaws open containers of alcohol in passenger vehicles. It doesn’t matter if only a driver’s passengers are drinking: You can be arrested and charged with violating Texas’ open container laws if there is any open container of alcohol present in your vehicle.

Let’s take a closer look at what Texas’ open container law looks like and how you can protect your rights if you’re facing criminal charges for this offense.

What Is Considered an ‘Open Container’?

It’s important to understand how the law defines what an open container of alcohol is. Many people assume this only means the bottles or cans that alcohol is typically sold within, but the law is much broader than this.

For example, anything that contains any amount of an alcoholic beverage may be considered an open container. If the receptacle has a broken seal, it may be considered “open” even if none of its contents are removed. Conversely, any such container may be considered “open” if its contents are partially removed.

Where Is It Legal to Have an Open Container in Texas?

It’s safer to never transport open containers of alcohol, but there are some places in your vehicle where you can store them if it’s absolutely necessary to do so.

Texas Penal Code - Penal § 49.031 permits alcohol storage in the following areas of a vehicle:

  • The trunk
  • A locked glove compartment or a similarly locked storage container
  • The space behind the upright seat of the vehicle, if there is no trunk

While the law makes these specific exceptions, you should try to avoid having an open container of alcohol in your vehicle. The presence of such a container, even if it’s in a legal location of your vehicle, can result in unnecessary scrutiny from law enforcement, which can lead to your arrest.

It’s also worth noting that there are some exceptions to the open container law in Texas. For instance, passengers can have an open container in a limousine or a chartered bus if the vehicle has a partition and the driver is not able to access the passenger area. Additionally, passengers in an RV or motorhome are allowed to have an open container if the vehicle is being used for living or sleeping purposes.

Open Container & DWI Penalties in Texas

An open container conviction can come with a maximum fine of $500, and passengers—as well as drivers—may be charged. As a Class C misdemeanor, this is the least serious type of criminal offense, but it does create a criminal record that can impact your ability to find housing and employment.

If you are the driver, however, you can face potentially worse consequences. When police suspect a driver was drinking from an open container present in their vehicle, they may arrest the driver for driving while intoxicated (DWI). This criminal offense is a more serious misdemeanor, but it can also be charged as a felony under more serious circumstances or if the defendant has prior DWI convictions.

A conviction for DWI in Texas can result in sentences of up to six months in jail for first-time offenders, up to a year in jail for second-time offenders, and 2-10 years in prison for third-time offenders.

We Can Help If You’re Facing Charges

If you were arrested under Texas’ open container and/or DWI laws, you need legal assistance to help you protect your rights. You may be unfairly accused and risk losing your freedom due to a misunderstanding. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you fight your charges and work toward a better outcome.

If you want to speak with someone who can help, contact The Law Office of Rene A. Flores PLLC and request a consultation.

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