Like other U.S. states, Texas has strict rules about driving while intoxicated (DWI). Any driver pulled over for inebriation while behind the wheel could face a DWI charge and its corresponding penalties.
But let’s say you’re inside your car on a hot day. Feeling thirsty, you park your vehicle to the side and crack open a beer can for a quick swig. You decide not to consume the beverage at the last minute to avoid DWI charges. Just moments later, an officer flags and cites you for a misdemeanor. What just happened?
By Texas law, carrying an open liquor container in your vehicle is illegal, even if you’re not intoxicated. What is this law, and why should you care?
Specifics of the alcohol beverage possession law
According to the law, a driver commits an offense if they knowingly possess an open container of an alcoholic beverage in a passenger area of a motor vehicle while on a public highway. Drivers can violate the law even if inside a parked car, and possessing one or more containers in a single instance counts as one offense.
The law also outlines some of the terminology used:
- Open containers: The law says any bottle, can or other similar receptacle that contains any amount of alcoholic beverage that is opened (or has been opened), or its contents were partially removed, counts for purposes of the law.
- Passenger area: Refers to the part of the vehicle designed for the driver and passengers to sit in. The law also clarifies that the term “passenger area” doesn’t include the vehicle’s glove compartment, the trunk and the area behind the last upright seat of the car (if the automobile doesn’t have a trunk).
- Public highway: The entire width of a public road and any areas immediately adjacent to its boundary lines count toward this definition. Any publicly maintained way – highway, street or interstate – also falls under this term.
Violating this law is a Class C misdemeanor, with a fine of up to $500.
Exemptions to the law
There are exemptions to the law. If the individual with an open container of liquor was in the passenger area of a vehicle designed specifically for transporting people (such as a taxicab or a limousine), they’re exempted. The law also exempts passengers who have alcoholic drinks but are in the living quarters of a motor home.
While there are exemptions to the alcohol possession law, it can be easy for exempted passengers to share their drinks with the driver of the vehicle, violating the law. You could be looking at a misdemeanor charge if this happens to you. Should this happen, you might want to consider getting legal support to defend your case and challenge the misdemeanor charge.