Under Texas law, you must have control of the vehicle to face driving while intoxicated (DWI) charges. However, you could face other charges as a passenger in a vehicle with a drunk or drugged driver. This could include public intoxication and open container violations.
There are also some situations where the person who first appeared to be a passenger in the vehicle faces DWI charges because they were in control of the vehicle at the time of the stop or accident. Additionally, the police can arrest you for suspicion of DWI for sitting in your car with the keys in a public place even if you are in the passenger seat.
Understanding Texas Drunk Driving Laws
There are two components to a Texas drunk driving charge:
- You are in control of the vehicle and are driving or could drive
- You are legally intoxicated or impaired
Driving—or at least having control of the car—is a vital part of a driving while intoxicated charge. If you have the keys and are in the car while drunk or drugged, you could face drunk driving charges. Alternatively, if you are in the car but someone else has the keys and appears to be in control of the car, you are unlikely to face DWI charges.
In addition to showing you have control of the vehicle, the police will need to show you meet or exceed the legal limit for intoxication through breath or blood alcohol concentration testing. The legal limit for most drivers in Texas is 0.08. The police may also arrest you if you appear too impaired to drive, regardless of what your breath or blood tests indicate. Talk to your DWI lawyer about attacking blood test results if they played a role in your arrest.
Facing Related Charges
While you are unlikely to face drunk driving charges as a passenger in a Texas motor vehicle, you could still face alcohol-related charges following a traffic stop or accident regardless of whether the driver is arrested for DWI.
Open Container Violations
Under Texas law, it is illegal to have any type of open alcohol container in the passenger compartment of your vehicle. This includes everything from empty beer cans to recorked wine bottles. If you must travel with a previously opened bottle of wine or liquor, you should put it in your trunk or rear cargo area or lock it in your glove compartment or a locking console.
Both the driver and any passengers can receive an open container citation and face fines of up to $500 if the police spot an open container in the vehicle.
Drug Possession Charges
Similarly, the police can issue a citation and/or arrest you if they see drugs or drug paraphernalia in the vehicle during a traffic stop or after an impaired driving accident. They may try to identify if the drugs belonged to you, the driver, or another passenger. A DWI lawyer can help you navigate the complexities of how a DWI drug charge works in Texas.
The drunk driver may be providing a ride for a more intoxicated friend. When this occurs, and the drunk driver gets arrested, the passenger may be unable to care for themselves or get home safely.
If this happens to you, your best option is to have a sober friend or family member come pick you up. If this is not possible, or if you behave in a combative manner or speak belligerently to the police, you may face public intoxication charges.
Exceptions to the Rule
There may be some exceptions to the rule that a passenger cannot face Texas DWI charges. This generally occurs when the person in the passenger seat swapped seats following an accident or traffic stop, or when there is other proof they were in control of the vehicle.
A passenger could also face charges if they are sitting in the car in possession of the keys with no one in the driver’s seat. This is important to consider before you try to sleep it off in your vehicle, use your vehicle’s heat to get warm or air conditioning to cool off, listen to music, or do anything else in your vehicle while intoxicated.
Talk to a Texas DWI Defense Attorney About Your Arrest Today
If the police arrested you for a DWI or a related offense in Texas, the drunk driving defense attorneys at Eddington Worley are here to help. We do not believe anyone should have to face this alone. We can help you navigate the criminal justice process by building a strong defense, protecting your rights, and fighting for a more favorable outcome in your case.
Call us today at 855-508-9785 to get started with a free consultation.