Comparing the Open Container Laws of Texas and Its Neighbors

We have discussed Texas open container laws many times before. To briefly recap, if you are caught by law enforcement with any open container of liquor in the passenger area of your vehicle, you can be cited for a Class C misdemeanor, which carries a $500 fine but no jail time. Of course, if you are actually driving while intoxicated, that is a different matter.

What you may not realize is that although open container laws are adopted at the state level, they are largely a consequence of a federal statute, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century. Adopted by Congress in the late 1990s, this Act provides financial incentives–in the form of threatening to withhold federal highway funds–for states to adopt and maintain strong open-container laws.

So how does Texas’ open container law compare to, say, its neighboring states. Here is a brief rundown:

Arkansas

Arkansas only adopted its open container law in 2017. The original statute only made it illegal to drink alcohol in a vehicle. It was still technically legal to possess an open container in an unlocked glove compartment or center console so long as nobody was actually drinking. To comply with the federal Act, however, Arkansas amended its law in 2018 to restrict open containers solely to “locked” areas of a vehicle. Violation of the current open container law is a Class C misdemeanor under Arkansas law, for which the maximum penalty is $100 and up to 30 days in jail.

Louisiana

In Louisiana, it is illegal for anyone to possess an open container “while the motor vehicle is operated” on a public street or to consume any alcohol while seated in the passenger area. This is only considered an “infraction,” however, subject to a $100 fine.

New Mexico

New Mexico law states that “[n]o person shall knowingly drink any alcoholic beverage while in a motor vehicle upon any public highway within this state.” Similarly, no person may “knowingly” have an open container of alcohol “while in a motor vehicle upon any public highway within this state.” A first offense is treated as a traffic infraction, which carries a $25 fine. Any subsequent open container violation, however, may be prosecuted as a misdemeanor. If convicted, a defendant faces a $300 fine, 90 days in jail, and suspension of their driver’s license.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma is perhaps the strictest when it comes to open container offenses. A first offense is a misdemeanor punishable by as much as 6 months in jail, in addition to a $500 fine. However, Oklahoma considers “consumption” of alcohol in a vehicle to be a lesser misdemeanor, with a fine of between $10 and $100 and 5 to 30 days in jail.

Speak with a Texas Open Container Defense Attorney Today

If you are charged with any type of open container violation, remember you have the same constitutional rights to due process as with any other criminal matter. So if you need advice or representation from a skilled criminal defense attorney, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Houston, Galveston or League City today.