It wasn't that long ago when it was perfectly legal to drive with one hand on the steering wheel and the other holding a cold beer in Texas. That changed in 2001 when Texas lawmakers adopted the state's open container law, making it illegal to have open containers of alcohol within reach of a vehicle's occupants.
Under Texas Penal Code 49.031, knowingly possessing an open container of alcohol in moving vehicle is a Class C misdemeanor, and punishable by a $500 fine. Violating the law does not have to lead to an arrest.
Instead, police officers are instructed to issue the driver a ticket and notice to appear in court, and if the driver signs the citation and agrees to appear in court, then the officer must let the driver go.
Of course, a driver can be arrested if he or she is over the legal limit to drive.
Driver must be on public roadway to be ticketed
A driver cannot be charged with violating the open container law until he or she reached the public roadway. In other words, if a driver opens a beer while leaving the liquor store and gets into his vehicle, he cannot be charged with violating the open container law until he leaves the parking lot and enters the public roadway.
The same is true for a driver who opens an adult beverage while in a private driveway.
However, being parked on the side of a public roadway is not a safe place to open a container of alcohol. A driver can be charged for violating the open container law anytime he or she is on a public roadway, even if the vehicle is parked.
Where to keep an open bottle
Under the law, it is perfectly legal to carry an open container of alcohol so long as it is locked in the glove compartment or console, in the trunk or behind the driver's seat, if you drive a pickup. The bottom line is that it has to be out of reach of all passengers.
Taxis, limousines, buses and motor homes
In Texas, it is legal to drink while riding as a passenger on a bus, taxi or limousine. It is also within the law to drink while riding in the living quarters of a motor home.