Texas does not take these drunk driving lightly, and there are severe penalties if charged. However, you may not know that you don’t even have to be drunk to get a DUI/DWI charge.
In a bid to further improve road safety, Texas has an open container law, which means that whether you are drinking or not, having an open or unsealed alcoholic beverage in the passenger area of a motor vehicle on a public highway is illegal.
What if the beverage is out of sight?
The law applies if the container is in what is considered the ‘passenger area of the vehicle.’ This means that areas such as the passenger seat, backseat, and cup holder apply. As long as it is within the driver’s reach, then the driver can be held culpable.
However, the law also recognizes that you can inadvertently find yourself in situations where you have unsealed alcoholic beverages in your car. For instance, you could be carrying a bottle of wine or vodka you had at a restaurant. In such a case, as long as you keep the beverage in the trunk or locked away, for instance, in your glove compartment, then you are operating within the law.
Are there any exceptions?
Fortunately, if you’re a cab or limo driver, you cannot be held responsible if your passengers carry open alcoholic beverages. This applies to any public or private vehicle used primarily to transport people.
Additionally, if you’re driving an RV or a motor home, you cannot be penalized for having open containers in your living quarters because that is considered your home.
What are the penalties?
You can be charged as long as you have an open beverage within reach in your vehicle on a public highway, even if your vehicle is parked. This is considered a Class C misdemeanor, resulting in a citation requiring you to appear in court.
Being charged with a DUI can be frustrating and can feel unfair, especially under a law like this where you may not actually be under the influence. It’s important to understand the legalities of traffic offenses in Texas to prevent yourself from committing a crime unwittingly.