Open Container Violation
In most states, a person commits an open container violation by possessing or consuming alcohol within public places, which includes the confines of motor vehicles.
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What Is an Open Container Violation?
While driving under the influence is illegal in every state, most states also make it illegal for drivers and passengers to possess open containers of alcohol in a vehicle. To possess an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle on a public road or highway is an open container violation. Open container violations are specific to the laws of each state and generally only refer to the possession of alcohol in vehicles, but can also include any of the following:
- Open container or consumption of alcohol within parked or in-motion motor vehicles
- Patron removal of partially consumed containers or bottles from licensed establishments
- Open container or consumption of alcohol in public areas
“Public areas” are legally defined as explicitly public spaces like parks, sidewalks, beaches, and, controversially, private vehicles on the street. It is important to note that open container laws do not extend to private property that is open to the public, such as sports stadiums, concert arenas, outdoor bars, and restaurant patios.
There is no federal open container law; they exist solely on state and local levels. There are currently 7 states in the U.S. that allow open containers in public – Missouri, Arkansas, West Virginia, Mississippi, Virginia, Delaware, and Connecticut – and there is no comprehensive standardization of open container laws for the states and counties that do actively ban it. The purpose of open container laws and the incurring violations is to decrease rates of public intoxication and to specifically dissuade drinking and driving. Although the laws are unpopular amongst some, studies have found that states that have open container laws have a 5.1% decrease in fatal DUI crash rates compared to those that don’t.
How Is “Open Container” Defined?
State laws typically define an “open container” as an alcoholic beverage that has a broken seal, has been opened, or has had some of the contents removed. Containers can include any type of container that holds an alcoholic beverage, including: bottles, cans, flasks, and cups.
Common Exceptions to Open Container Laws
Just as open container laws vary by state, there are exceptions to the laws that differ by areas of jurisdiction as well. Some cities that are major entertainment and tourist destinations – such as Las Vegas, Nevada and New Orleans, Louisiana – have local statutes that permit public possession and consumption of alcohol despite state prohibition. Additionally, some states operate under a complete ban on alcohol in a vehicle and others only retain a partial ban on alcohol in a vehicle. If the district has a partial ban, passengers are permitted to possess open containers in a vehicle but not drivers.
Other exceptions include the location of alcohol in a vehicle and the type of vehicle that someone possessing alcohol is a passenger in. Most states prohibit open containers from being anywhere in a vehicle; however, there are some states that only outlaw alcohol in the passenger area. Therefore, in certain states, alcohol can lawfully be kept in the trunk or area in a vehicle that is not readily accessible to the driver and passengers. Many states also allow open containers to be stored in the living quarters of motor vehicle homes and sanction passengers to consume alcohol in vehicles-for-hire like limousines and party buses.
Consequences of an Open Container Violation
Punishment for an open container violation varies by state but is normally a ticketed offense that requires court appearance. Other consequences for public possession and/or consumption of alcohol include:
- License suspension
- Fines up to $1,000
- Possible jail time
- Community service hours
More importantly, an open container violation can lead to other more serious charges. Many people that are found with an open container often also face public intoxication, underage drinking, and/or driving under the influence (DUI) charges, all of which incur much steeper consequences.
Make Good Decisions and Follow the Law
Be smart; follow your local open container laws, leave your drink at the bar, and hand your keys to a designated driver. Although those simple steps may seem easy for the majority of people to follow, alcoholism is a disease and clouds judgment. If you’re someone that is struggling with restricting your alcohol consumption, contact a dedicated treatment specialist today to learn about your options.
Author — Last Edited: December 10, 2018
Eisenberg, Daniel. (2003). Evaluating the Effectiveness of Policies Related to Drunk Driving. Retrieved on 8th November 2018 from https://www.jstor.org/stable/3325824?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
Legal Information Institute. (2018). 23 US Code Statute 154 – Open Container Requirements. Retrieved on 8th November 2018 from https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/23/154
McCurley, John. (2018). Can a Vehicle Passenger Drink Alcohol? Can I have an Open Container in My Car? Retrieved on 7th November 2018 from https://dui.drivinglaws.org/resources/can-a-passenger-drink-alcohol.htm
McCurley, John. (2018). Open Container Violations. Retrieved on 7th November 2018 from https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/free-books/beat-ticket-book/chapter7-10.html
National Conference of State Legislatures. (2013). Open Container and Open Consumption of Alcohol State Statutes. Retrieved on 7th November 2018 from http://www.ncsl.org/research/financial-services-and-commerce/open-container-and-consumption-statutes.aspx