Which states allow you to drive with an open container?

Which states allow you to drive with an open container?


The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century Restoration Act passed in 1998 included a federal program that was designed to encourage each of the state to adopt laws that would prohibit both the possession and consumption of alcohol in the area of vehicles where passengers sit. Since the passage of this act, some 43 states have incorporated their own open container laws to govern this prohibition. Nevertheless, of these 43 states only 39 of them have written their laws such that they comply with the federal requirements. Having these laws in place has saved them from a penalty transfer of federal highway construction funds to their state's safety grant program. Six of the remaining states do not have any open container law at all, yet prohibit the consumption of alcohol in particular instances. In the state of Mississippi there is no law prohibiting either open containers of alcohol consumption, thereby allowing their residents to completely sidestep a consumption of alcohol violation ticket.

The federal program compliance rules stipulate that an open container law must meet particular requirements to apply. To begin with, the law must apply to all the occupants in a vehicle - not just the driver. However, it may provide an exception when it comes to open containers for those passengers “in the passenger area of a motor vehicle designed, maintained, or used primarily for the transportation of persons for compensation."  In other words, passengers in buses, or taxis, even limousines may be able to have open containers, if their state's laws provide for it. Currently, there are some 40 federally compliant jurisdictions in the United States, and only four of them have not included some sort of exemption for those who are paying passengers as described above. So, if you live in one of these states which have included this provision in its law you could legally be in a limousine consuming an alcoholic beverage (in the passenger area) and as long as your driver is properly licensed you would be breaking no laws or ordinances.

None of the jurisdictions referred to allow for an individual in a privately owned vehicle to this exemption - meaning they cannot have open containers while in the passenger area of the car even if they hire someone to drive them around so they can have open containers.  There is the exception to this however; North Dakota and Washington allow open containers in the passenger area of a privately owned vehicle as long as it is during the course of his usual employment and he is transporting passengers because his employer has requested he do so.

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