Open Container While Driving: Fines and Defenses

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In order to help curtail impaired driving, laws have gone a step further, making it an offense to have an "open container" of alcohol or other substances that might impair judgment inside the compartment of a passenger vehicle.  These laws prohibit a person from possessing any open alcoholic beverage container and also any consumption of alcoholic beverages in a moving vehicle.  These laws are considered an important tools used by police agencies in their attempt to bring an end to impaired driving.

Open Container Laws

According to the law it is unlawful for a person, an operator or an occupant in a motor vehicle to be in possession of an open alcoholic beverage container, or for there to be any consumption of these controlled substances while the vehicle is on a highway.

The statutes of some states are extremely restrictive, prohibiting the carrying of any bottle, container or can in which the seal of one of these containers has been broken while in any part of the vehicle where the driver could access said container; including the glove compartment.  In other states a more reasonable attitude is employed, permitting containers to be transported from inside a locked glove compartment.

Federal Influence on State Open Container Laws

Federal statutes mandated that each state have an open container law enacted by October 1, 2000.  Those states that failed to enact such a law would have a portion of their federal aid highway construction funds rerouted to other state safety programs each year.  These rerouted funds would be directed to the state's Section 402 highway safety program and used for the enforcement of anti-drunk driving laws.  Their other alternative was to have the money used to support the state's hazard elimination program.  As it turned out, all the states adopted their own form of legislation regarding open containers because they wanted to maintain the highway money coming in from the federal government.

As mentioned above, some states enacted extremely restrictive measures where even the seal of the container could not be broken and this was in any part of the vehicle that the driver could access including the glove box.  Other states' laws allowed for containers to be kept inside locked glove compartments.

Fines and Penalties

Open container fines vary from state to state, but are usually assessed in the form of a fine between $25 (in the state of Alabama), to a maximum of $1,000.  Hawaii and Illinois are the two states which exact the largest fines.  The fines are on a sliding scale based on whether the offense is a first, second or more offense.  For repeat offenders the penalties vary still depending upon which state the offender is caught in.  The states with the harshest penalties in this case are Hawaii, Idaho, Arizona, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina and Illinois where they impose a minimum sentence of 30 days in jail.

Whether points will be deducted from your record or you license revoked relies entirely upon the state statutes where you are arrested.

Defenses

If caught with an open container according to the state laws in which the individual is apprehended, defenses are few.  The first thing you should do is hire a competent attorney.  He will be able to determine if the laws were followed at the point of the arrest.

The attorney can review possible defenses revolving around the following points of law:

  • Given the actual facts of the law, did you actually violate the law in your circumstance?
  • Did the arresting officer follow the law during the arrest process?
  • Was your conduct such that you committed a criminal violation?

Contact a DUI Attorney

Your rights are always best protected when you engage the services of an attorney who specializes in the area of law you have potentially violated.

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