Every state has open container laws, including Texas. For drivers and passengers in the Lone Star State, it is illegal to have an open container of alcohol in a vehicle, with a few exceptions. Open container laws also apply to those on foot in public places, but only in specific areas enforced by local laws and in state parks. Having an open container in public is not enforced statewide.
Texas passed its open container law on September 1, 2001. As it has in other states, this law has since proven to have lowered drunk driving crashes and has been a deterrent for drivers considering taking the wheel while impaired.
Texas Open Container Law
According to Texas Penal Code Section 49.031, an open container is defined as "bottles, cans or other receptacles" containing any amount of an alcoholic beverage with a broken seal or partially removed contents. These containers cannot be stored in the passenger area of a motor vehicle designed for seating, but they can be legally stored in a locked part of a car, such as a trunk or a glove compartment. In the absence of those areas, open containers of alcohol are allowed to be stored behind the last upright seat.
Open container law applies to drivers and passengers on public highways, which are defined as "the width between and immediately adjacent to the boundary lines of any public road, street, highway, interstate, or other publicly maintained way if any part is open for public use for the purpose of motor vehicle travel."
A driver or passenger who knowingly possesses an open container is breaking the law, whether the vehicle is in motion or parked. It is also the vehicle operator's responsibility to ensure that a passenger adheres to Texas' open container law. If there is more than one open container in the vehicle at a time, it counts only as a single offense.
Open Container Violation Penalties
Breaking open container laws in Texas is a Class C misdemeanor. If the driver or passenger has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or more and they weren't committing any other crimes when they were stopped, law enforcement will likely issue a ticket with a maximum fine of $500, according to Texas attorney Jerry W. Tidwell, Jr. There is no risk of jail time or an arrest in this instance, but if there has been a prior DWI conviction or a license suspension, those penalties can increase.
If there is also a DWI charge at the same time, the open container charge becomes a Class B misdemeanor, which includes a fine of up to $2,000 and from six to 180 days in jail, depending on the circumstances.
An open container situation also gives law enforcement probable cause to perform sobriety tests, such as a field sobriety test or a breath test, and the charge may be used as evidence in a DWI case. When an officer issues an open container citation, it includes the time and place of the impending court appearance, the name and address of the person receiving it and the nature of the charge. If the recipient makes a written promise to appear before the court by signing the ticket in the presence of a police officer, that person will be allowed to leave.
Exceptions to Open Container Law
There are some exceptions to Texas's open container law. It is not a crime to have an open container in a vehicle while on a private driveway or on private property. Passengers in taxis, buses, trains and limousines are also exempt, but this is not true if another crime is being committed in the process. Possession of an open container of alcohol in a ride-share vehicle is legal for passengers. However, ride-share companies may have their own rules about what is allowed.
There are also exceptions for those with recreational vehicles, campers, self-contained trailers and motorhomes – open containers are allowed only in the living quarters of these vehicles. Drivers of these vehicles are still forbidden to have an open container of alcohol nearby.
Open Container Law and the Covid-19 Pandemic
In March 2020, in support of the hospitality industry during the Covid-19 pandemic, Governor Greg Abbott issued a waiver to loosen the state's stringent open container laws. It states that licensed establishments were allowed to "deliver alcoholic beverages with food purchases to patrons, including beer and wine and mixed drinks."
The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission further specified how businesses and drivers would be affected:
- The waiver is applicable only to establishments with beer, wine and mixed beverage permits that have been forced to end indoor services by state or local government during the Covid-19 pandemic.
- Eligible businesses may use independent contractors or third-party delivery apps to deliver alcoholic beverages to customers.
- Alcoholic beverages must come with food prepared on an approved establishment's premises.
- The container of alcohol being transported must not be larger than 375 milliliters and must be a sealed, original package by the beverage maker. Mixed drinks can also be purchased for pickup or delivery, but with the alcohol ingredients in separate, sealed containers.
Drinking in Public in Texas
There is no statewide ban on public drinking in Texas and, therefore, no open container law. However, public drinking and open containers are prohibited in state parks. While there is no statewide edict, specific counties and municipalities have their own laws regarding public consumption, according to the Fort Worth law firm of Varghese/Summersett.
The rules regarding alcohol consumption in public are split into two categories: public places that do not sell alcohol and those that do. The state does not allow the consumption of alcohol under these circumstances:
- In public places that do not sell alcohol on Sunday between 1:15 a.m. and 12 p.m., and on Monday through Saturday between 12:15 a.m. and 7 a.m.
- In places that do sell alcohol on Sunday, between 1:15 a.m. and 12 p.m., and on Monday through Saturday between 12:15 a.m. and 7 a.m.
Boating and Open Container Law
Open containers are allowed on watercraft in Texas. Boat operators and passengers can also consume alcohol, but Texas law prohibits anyone from operating watercraft while intoxicated. This applies to boats of any kind, including sailboats and personal watercraft, as well as water skis, sailboards and similar water equipment.
A boating while intoxicated charge (BWI) occurs when a boat operator has a BAC limit of 0.08 percent or higher. A person facing a BWI conviction is subject to fines of up to $2,000, 180 days in jail, or both, for a first offense. For a second offense, they can expect a possible sentence of up to $4,000 in fines and jail time of up to a year. A third BWI conviction can lead to up to 10 years of prison time, with a fine of up to $10,000.
- Find Law: Texas Penal Code Section 49.031. Possession of Alcoholic Beverage in Motor Vehicle
- Jerry W. Tidwell: 2019 Open Container Laws in Texas
- Office of the Texas Governor: Governor Abbott Waives Certain Regulations to Allow Delivery of Alcohol From Restaurants and to Support Hospitality Industry
- Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission: Industry Notice June 27, 2020
- Varghese/Summersett: Open Container Laws in Texas: Where Are Open Containers Allowed?
- Texas Statutes: Chapter 49. Intoxication and Alcoholic Beverage Offenses
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.