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How Federal Law Affects Texas’ Ban on Open Containers in Cars

Updated: Feb 12, 2023 @ 5:05 pm

Less than 1 minute Reading Time: Minutes

You probably know that Texas has laws prohibiting the possession of an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle. You may also be aware that the penalties for DWI may be greater in cases where there is also an open-container violation. But what you may not know is that federal law also plays a critical role in discouraging the possession of open containers in cars.

Arkansas to Join Texas in Complying with Section 154

Although state governments are largely responsible for deciding their own traffic and DWI laws, Congress can–and does–impose certain conditions in order to receive federal highway funds.

One such condition is 23 U.S.C. § 154, which effectively requires all states to enact and enforce open-container laws.

In other words, if a state does not actively prohibit the possession of open containers of alcohol in motor vehicles, the U.S. Department of Transportation can impose a “penalty” equal to 2.5 percent of the federal funds that state is scheduled to receive under both the National Highway Performance Program and the Surface Transportation Program.

But it is not enough for a state legislature to simply pass any type of open-container law. Among other provisions, the open-container law must prohibit both the possession and consumption of “any open alcoholic beverage container” within the “passenger area of any motor vehicle” that is “located on a public highway” or right-of-way.

A state open-container law may, however, permit the possession and consumption of alcohol exclusively in the passenger area of a vehicle that is used to transport persons for money (i.e., a taxicab or limousine), or the “living quarters” of a trailer, RV, or similar vehicle.

Texas open-container laws presently comply with Section 154. But at least one neighboring state has not been in compliance.

As recently reported by Insurance Journal, the Arkansas legislature only recently adopted its own open-container law. And that law did not comply with Section 154 in at least two critical respects, Insurance Journal noted.

  • First, the original Arkansas law still permitted open containers in “unlocked areas, such as a glove compartment or center console.”
  • Second, the Arkansas law did not explicitly ban possession of open containers on all public highways and right-of-ways.

But Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson recently signed additional legislation that amends the state’s open-container laws to bring it into line with Section 154 and the practices of states like Texas.

Facing DWI Charges? Have Questions?

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Just to clarify, Texas law (and Section 154) does allow individuals to store open containers of alcohol in locked glove compartments, consoles, or trunks. And if a particular vehicle does not have a trunk, it is also acceptable to store the open container behind the last upright seat in the vehicle.

If you have further questions or concerns about how the open container law works, or if you have been charged with an open-container violation yourself, you should speak with a qualified Houston criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. If you need help, contact The Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today.

Houston DWI Lawyer Tad A Nelson is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the TBLS.

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