Woman driving with bottle of alcohol

Open Container Violations

To protect drivers and passengers on the road, all states have many laws against drunk driving.

These include open container laws, which prohibit a driver from having an open container of alcohol in their motor vehicle. When a person receives a DUI or DWI, they are typically arrested and sometimes need a bail bond to be released. While the penalties for open container violations aren’t as severe, they can still be serious, so drivers should be aware of the open container laws.

For someone to be in violation of the open container laws, they must be driving a motor vehicle on any public road with any container of alcohol in their presence. The container can be a bottle, glass, can, or any other type of container. It can be in the driver’s hand, in a pocket or bag, or within arm’s reach of the driver. To be considered an open container violation, the container must have any amount of alcoholic drink inside when a police officer finds it. Odor from a container isn’t enough evidence for an open container violation.

The seal must be broken, or the contents of the container must be partially removed. Some states have specific laws about when a container is considered open or closed. In Florida, for example, a bottle of wine that was opened and then re-sealed at a restaurant is considered a closed container. In Louisiana, a frozen daiquiri is not considered an open container if the lid is on and the straw hasn’t been put through the lid.

Investigations

Because offenders are usually charged with the most serious offense possible, and because police officers usually have reason to believe that a driver is drunk if they have an open container, an officer will usually conduct a DUI investigation if they discover an open container. Even if the container isn’t within arm’s reach of the driver, they will likely still conduct an investigation. If the driver isn’t found to be drunk driving, they will probably receive a citation for an open-container violation.

Open Container Kept in Vehicle Violations

If the open container isn’t within reach of the driver, the driver cannot be charged with an open container violation. However, they can be charged with keeping an open container in the vehicle, which is illegal in most states. This is a less serious offense than an open container violation, though, because the container is out of arm’s reach from the driver.

In order to receive an open container kept in vehicle violation, the driver must be in a motor vehicle on a public road, and they must have a bottle, can, glass, or other container of alcohol in the vehicle anywhere but the trunk. The container must have any amount of alcohol when the officer finds it, and the seal must be broken or the contents must be partially removed.

There are some exceptions to this law with campers and motor homes. If an open container of alcohol is located in some living areas of a camper or motor home, the driver usually will not be charged.

In 43 states, it is against the law for passengers to drink alcoholic beverages in the car. The seven states that allow this are Arkansas, Delaware, Connecticut, Mississippi, Virginia, and West Virginia. In all other states, if a passenger has an open container of alcohol, the driver can be charged with an open container kept in vehicle violation.

Penalties

The penalties for open container violations vary between states, but they are usually considered infractions. Police officers will usually write the driver a ticket like they would for a speeding violation. Fines can sometimes be as high as $1,000. Offenders also occasionally have to complete community service. In some states, open container violations are considered misdemeanors, so offenders can receive a fine and up to a year in jail. Minors usually face more severe penalties.

While an open container violation is a relatively minor offense compared to a DUI or DWI, it still usually will affect the driver’s car insurance, and the driver may have their license suspended. Almost all states have penalties for open containers of alcohol being kept anywhere in the car, so drivers should always be sure they’re complying with the open container laws.

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