Open Container Laws
Can Passengers Drink Alcohol In a Car?
You might have heard stories about people innocently drinking a beer while riding in a friend’s car. The car is pulled over for something minor, say speeding, and then an officer ends up citing all the passengers with tickets for open container violations. Sadly, there is much misinformation on the Web regarding when and how the police can successfully charge people with open container violations. Similarly, there is a lot of misunderstanding about what “open container” really means in the law.
Why are There “Open Container” Laws?
Unless you work in the legal field or have to deal with highway projects, you probably never heard of the Transportation for Equity Act for the 21st Century, also known as TEA-21. It is a large and comprehensive law that in many ways ties federal highway funding to each state’s compliance with certain provisions. So, in many ways, the federal government gives states a list of things they must adhere to in order to preserve that funding. The law literally penalizes states that “fail to enact laws prohibiting open alcoholic beverage containers in the passenger area of a motor vehicle.” See Federal Highway Administration.
What does New York Law Say About Open Containers?
All states have some variation of open container laws. In New York, there are two general types of open container laws – in a vehicle and in public.
- Open containers in public: Most municipalities have ordinances that prohibit the consumption of alcohol on public grounds. New York City is no different. NYC Administrative Code 10-125 prohibits public consumption. There are exemptions for having open containers of alcohol in businesses and private parties. However, the general rule is no open containers or consumption on public grounds. Penalties are $25 per offense.
- Open containers in vehicles: This is the more serious of the open container offenses. Under New York State law, Art. 33, Sect. 1227, it is considered a traffic offense to drink alcohol or have an open container of alcohol inside of a motor vehicle. Again, the statutory penalty is just $25 or five days in jail. This is not the typical punishment received. Sentences are usually much stiffer than the amount provided on the face of the statute.
Are There Exceptions?
Yes. The law makes a few exceptions, but it is best not to take chances. When in doubt, do not test the law. However, the law makes exception for vehicles being operated with a special permit. These are usually private coach lines or ‘party buses.’ The law also makes allowance for properly re-corked wine bottles and the transporting of alcohol in a trunk or last upright seat to the rear. You can view the law here.
What Happens if I Get a Fine for Open Container in a Car?
Unfortunately, most people do not just get a single citation for having an open bottle of alcohol. Usually, the open container is merely evidence of another more serious crime – DUI or DWAI. Think of it this way, an open container is strong evidence that the driver may be under the influence. Likewise, if an officer sees an open container, it provides probable cause to initiate a traffic stop, which can reasonably lead to field sobriety tests, BAC tests, and even a search of the vehicle.
Speak to a Long Island DUI Lawyer Right Away
If you or someone you know has been arrested and charged with a drug or alcohol related offense, including open container violations, speak to a Long Island DUI attorney at 888-DUI-Lawyer right away. Even if you think the police are only charging you with an open container violation, you should still discuss your case with an drunk driving defense attorney to make sure the charges do not become worse. Call us 24/7 for a free consultation!