Open Container – Should I bring the roadie?

The other day a buddy of mine asked me whether or not he could get in trouble for having a closed, half-empty bottle of Ciroc in his back seat.  He was shocked when I answered “yes.”  Which made me realize that the open container laws in Texas might not be as well-known as they should be…

Denzel-Washington-Drinking

What is an Open Container?

In Texas, an Open Container Violation is a class C misdemeanor.  There is a 2-part test to determine whether or not you are guilty of this offense:

  1. There must be an “open container”
  2. The open container must be in the “passenger area” of your vehicle

An open container is defined as a bottle, can, or container that has ANY amount of an alcoholic beverage and is open or unsealed.  Clearly, an open beer can or a Yeti filled with a mixed drink would constitute an open container.  But... you might be surprised to know that a half-empty bottle of liquor with the cap on it is also an open container!

The passenger area of your vehicle is basically any area of your vehicle that is within the reach of the driver and is intended to seat passengers.  Areas that are NOT considered the passenger area and that are safe to keep open containers include:

  • The glove compartment or a similar locked storage container
  • The trunk of a vehicle / bed of a truck
  • The area behind the last upright seat of a vehicle that doesn't have a trunk (i.e. the back of your SUV)
  • The living area of an RV

Note: This law applies to both public roads and areas immediately next to public roads whether you’re stopped, moving or parked.  In other words, be careful drinking alcohol in parking lots while you’re in your vehicle.

Does this law mean you can’t drive around with an unsealed liquor bottle in your vehicle?

Of course not. ONLY open containers that are located in the “passenger area” of your vehicle will violate the open container statute.  So don't keep that unsealed bottle in the backseat, put it in the trunk or another safe area listed above.

Passengers and Open Containers

The open container law applies to both passengers and drivers in Texas.  What does that mean? It means you better think twice next time you’re driving and your friend wants to bring a roadie along for the ride.  Because both the driver and the passenger will be charged with possession of an open container should you get pulled over.  This is true even if the driver hasn’t had a sip of alcohol or didn’t know someone popped a beer open in the backseat.

Penalties for Open Container

An open container violation is a class C misdemeanor, meaning it is punished similar to a traffic ticket.  Generally, the fine for this offense is no more than $500.  However, if you’re charged with a DWI and an open container is found in your possession then the jail-time penalty for your DWI can be enhanced.  Thus, while a class C misdemeanor isn’t a life altering event, it can still have both personal and professional consequences depending on your individual circumstances.

Takeaways

Always put alcohol in your trunk or in the very back of your vehicle to be safe.  Never let your friends bring a roadie with them.  Especially, if you’ve already had a drink or two yourself.  However, should you find yourself in a position where you already received a citation for this offense, then give us a call at Third Coast Law today!

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