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Confusion Over Open Container Laws Can Mean Tickets For Drivers

Long-time drivers who have completed training at Texas driving schools may remember around 2000 when it was still legal for passengers to drink alcoholic beverages as long as they weren't near the driver. However, the federal government required states to pass new open container laws in order to continue to receive highway maintenance funding, and many drivers in Texas still don't have a strong grasp of what the new rules entail.

First, any container that's opened cannot be in the passenger area at all. An open container in the backseat is liable to be cited by a patrol officer, as is one under a seat or in an unlocked glovebox. If one is found, every occupant of the car or truck can be cited under the new open container laws. There are only two acceptable places, according to the regulations: a locked glovebox and the area behind the rearmost seats. In most vehicles, this restricts placement of opened beverages to the trunk, while in SUVs it may be possible to use the cargo area.

There are several exceptions in the new law that are worth mentioning. The open container laws do not hold in vehicles that provide rides for compensation. Therefore taxis, touring vans and buses, as well as similar vehicles do not fall under this law. The other issue is that enforcement can only occur on public roads. While it can be difficult to judge whether or not a road falls under public jurisdiction, a quick rule of thumb is that if the city would maintain it and do repairs, then it's public. This does not include private parking lots, country clubs or vacation resorts.

However, the law does not distinguish between cars that are currently moving or ones that are parked, as law enforcement officers may reasonably argue that the container was most likely open while the vehicle was in motion.

The new law is more restrictive than the old one, and also carries with it a mandatory citation with fines up to $500. Drivers and occupants looking to avoid points on their license or the need to go to a Texas driving school for help may do well to keep open containers stowed away from passengers.

More importantly, state troopers and other law enforcement personnel have been willing to log extra hours to write tickets and citations for the offense. Statistics show that in the first nine months after the law was passed, troopers along were responsible for 1,000 open container citations per month.

While these numbers reflect the fact that the legislature authorized a kick-off enforcement effort that began on Labor Day, the fact of the matter is that law enforcement agents are regularly on the lookout for drivers and passengers with open containers. Not knowing the regulations involved can prove costly to Texan drivers. Learning more about these new regulations and others can be made easier by attending a defensive driving course; it may also help reduce points if you have been ticketed for other offenses.