Impact of an Open Container Ticket

Open container laws prohibit open containers in certain public areas such as parks and vehicles. These laws are not federal, and so they vary greatly from state to state. The impact of an open container ticket varies just as widely.

Most state open container laws:

  • prohibit possession and consumption of any open alcohol beverage ;
  • require covered or closed areas of the vehicle that the driver or passenger could not access;
  • apply the law to any beverage one half of one percent or more of alcohol; apply the law to all vehicle occupants;
  • apply to all vehicles on a public highway; and,
  • require primary enforcement of the law and not require probable cause of any other traffic violation.

Open container laws including the above points must be in place to receive certain highway construction funds.

To date, there are 39 states and the District of Columbia in compliance, and another 4 that have open container laws, but as yet do not comply with all of the above points. Only Mississippi allows a driver to drink while driving as long as he/she stays below .08% blood alcohol content. Eight states currently allow passengers to drink alcohol in the vehicle.

Penalties for Open Container Violation

Like the laws, penalties for violation vary greatly from state to state. For example, in Colorado the maximum fine for an open container violation is $50 or less; while in Hawaii the maximum penalty is $1,000 or more. All states fall somewhere within these maximums. These amounts do not include any additional fees, surcharges, or assessments that may be added by the court. Additionally, the fines for violation may change upward for subsequent violations.

Most often these are traffic violations or misdemeanors, and the fines may be combined with imprisonment of anywhere from 30 days to 6 months for drivers. Again, these can be increased for subsequent offenses. There may additionally be a fine and/or imprisonment for passengers in the vehicle as well. The violation does not generally go on your motor vehicle record unless you are the driver of the vehicle.

States that do not have open container laws include: Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Missouri, Virginia, and West Virginia. These states do however have fines and penalties for consuming in public places including motor vehicles.

There are no laws and no penalties in Mississippi unless your blood alcohol content exceeds .08%.

Summary

There are a wide variety of laws throughout the United States regarding open containers and the penalties for having those containers. You should be aware of the laws in your state and the laws in the states you are traveling through. If you do receive an open container ticket, seek the advice of an attorney as to minimizing your penalties.

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