Operating a motor vehicle while inebriated is a crime in Texas. If an officer suspects you of being drunk behind the wheel, they can ask you to pull over and participate in roadside tests. If you fail the tests or your blood alcohol content (BAC) level during the traffic stop is at least .08%, the officer can charge you with driving while intoxicated (DWI).
But there’s more to a DWI than just being caught drunk. If you’re driving and happen to have an open container of alcohol next to you when an officer pulls you over, the officer could also charge you with possessing an alcoholic beverage in a motor vehicle, which carries penalties separate from a DWI conviction.
State law on open containers of alcohol
Per Texas law, it’s illegal to possess an open container with an alcoholic beverage while driving. The definition of an open container is broad and can refer to bottles, cans and other types of disposable or resealable containers.
An officer can charge you regardless of the amount of alcoholic beverage left in the container. The official can also cite the violation whether your vehicle is moving or not, as long as it’s on a public highway.
Open container exceptions
There are certain cases where the open container law doesn’t apply. If you possess an open alcohol container, but you’re not the driver, you might not face charges. Specifically, you must be a passenger riding in either the “passenger area” of a vehicle primarily used for the transportation of people for compensation (such as cabs, buses, limos and so on) or riding in the living quarters of an RV.
In other words, if you’re a passenger in the part of a vehicle that’s not easily accessible to the driver, an officer can’t charge you. Passengers riding next to the driver, however, are fair game.
Penalties for open alcohol containers
If you’re charged with possessing an open container of alcohol, you potentially face a Class C misdemeanor on conviction. On conviction, you face a fine of up to $500.
While there’s no jail time for a Class C misdemeanor, the conviction can combine with the penalties for DWI, which does feature jail time, additional fines and even license suspensions.
A DWI conviction is plenty harsh, but adding the penalties for having an open container of alcohol can be financially taxing. Moreover, an officer can even cite a passenger not driving for the offense. If you’re facing charges, carefully consider your legal options.