How Bad is it to Be Caught With an Open Container

If you possess an open container of alcohol in the passenger area of your car, even if you are not drinking from it, you are committing a container violation. Of course, most open container laws forbid drinking alcohol in a vehicle.

Also, it is not necessary for the vehicle to move for you to be charged for an open container violation. This law applies to vehicles that are both parked and in motion.

In the states where marijuana is legal, the open container laws apply for possessing an open container of marijuana in your vehicle. Contact a DUI lawyer for more information on this topic.

What is an Open Container?

Most states define an “open container” of alcohol as a broken seal or opened bottle (container) with some of the contents removed. 

It is a criminal offense to possess an open container of alcohol inside the passenger area of your vehicle, and the law is created in such manner so it can fight drunk driving and putting yourself and others in danger.

In most states, violating this law will pass with a fine. But, if the driver or any of the passengers in the vehicle is younger than twenty-one, and it has an open container of alcoholic drink in the passenger area, the penalty will be stricter. In most cases, the driver will be charged with driving under the influence, if the container was opened and was in the passenger area while the driver was driving.

Who carries the fault for an open container violation?

This law forbids possessing an open container of alcohol in your vehicle. Technically, if you own the vehicle, no matter if you drive it or not, you are the one who is responsible.

There are cases when the officer finds an open container in the vehicle, and no one admits that it is theirs. In such cases, it will be difficult to determine who possesses the drink. The officer will take into consideration which person was the closest to the container and if it was within reach of one or more people. It is very much possible for more people to be responsible for the container.

Can I carry open containers in any part of my car?

The law is precise when it says that an open container cannot be carried in the passenger area. So, the passenger area is all areas that are within reach of the driver or a passenger. 

This means that carrying an open container in the trunk is completely safe. If the car does not have a trunk, the law in some states will allow open containers behind the last row of seats.

This law has some exceptions. Most states allow open containers in the living area of a recreational vehicle and in the passenger areas of vehicles-for-hire like party buses or limousines.

Is an open container a serious conviction?

Every state has different penalties for this conviction. Usually, the consequences are not as serious as driving under the influence, for example. Usually, the fines are not too high, usually about $100. 

In some states, prison time is also a possibility, but chances are you will not end up in jail for an open container conviction.

Federal Open Container Law

As we already mentioned, open container laws are different in various states. But, the federal government has created a program to encourage states to adjust their open container laws to the federal standards.

The open container law of one state should meet six standards to adjust to the federal requirements completely:

  • Prohibit possession of any open alcoholic drink container and the consumption of any alcoholic beverage in a motor vehicle. This is applied to all alcoholic drinks.
  • Passenger area should be defined – it is the area where the driver and passengers sit while the motor vehicle is running. Any area that has easy access by the driver and passenger is not suitable for carrying an open container of alcohol. This applies to both drivers and passengers.
  • The law is applied to a moving or parked motor vehicle. 
  • Officers can stop a vehicle from enforcing the open container law.

Only fourteen states do not have open container laws that are adjusted to the federal standards. The rest of the states do.

Texas has strict laws for driving under the influence and carrying an open container in the passenger area. If you seek help for such a case, call our DWI lawyers and let us help you with your case.

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