Open container laws might seem unnecessary to those who practice responsible drinking habits. However, not all individuals are discriminatory when it comes to behaviors like drinking and driving. When a police officer pulls over a vehicle, they have no way of knowing if the passengers of the vehicle are acting responsibly. Open container laws exist to ensure that acts of public intoxication and/or drunk driving don’t occur on a regular basis. Each state establishes its own laws dictating what is acceptable regarding open alcoholic beverage containers.
According to Texas law, an individual violates the open container law if they knowingly possess an open container in any area of the car located on a public roadway. Open container laws also apply to those parked in their car. Each incidence of open container possession counts as one offense, no matter how many open bottles are in the car.
Additional factors come into play when an officer charges you with possessing an open container. First offenses often come with the least severe consequences, but this changes when additional misdemeanors contribute to the original charge. Second and third offenses will also change how an officer charges you.
Texas’ open container laws only apply to passenger vehicles in which the driver is the owner of the car. They do not apply to passengers of public transit vehicles like buses, taxis, or limousines. These vehicles comes with the implication that the passengers are not taking part in the actual driving of the vehicle themselves. For instance, numerous party buses and limousines offer alcoholic beverages for their customers knowing that they will not operate the vehicle.
In many cases, the open container law also doesn’t apply to motor homes and campers that double as homes. This is wholly dependent on the context in which an officer finds the open container. For instance, open containers should not be sitting in a cupholder of a motor home that its owner is actively driving. This could imply negligence. Ideally, this class of vehicle should always be stationary when open containers are in the vehicle.
The most common charge for violating open container law in Texas is a Class C misdemeanor. This conviction comes with a maximum fine of $500. This charge changes depending on the context surrounding the discovery of the open container.
A driver who fails a driving under the influence test will face both an open container and DUI charges after the discovery of an open container. It is important to remember that an officer can charge you with DWI (driving while impaired) even if your blood alcohol content (BAC) is below the legal limit of .08%. If you have an open container in your car, this is valid motivation for an officer to charge you with DWI rather than letting you go.
The combination of DWI, or DUI, and an open container misdemeanor could result in a longer jail sentence. Moreover, both charges come with separate fines. As mentioned previously, open container charges cap out at $500. You will likely pay this maximum fine if coupled with an additional misdemeanor. Additionally, the DUI or DWI itself will result in charges and fees that range from $5,000 to $24,000 for first-time offenders.
When considering the price of leaving an open container in your car after a night out, even if it’s the morning after, it is best not to hedge your bets. Making informed decisions will prevent the stress and hassle that comes with facing the fines and field sobriety tests that follow open container misdemeanors.