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Pulled Over with an Open Container?

If you’re wondering what happens when you’re pulled over with an open container, this article will explain what you need to know. Just keep in mind that open container laws pertain to alcohol, so you should not be in trouble if you get pulled over with a can of soda. Without further ado, let’s dive in!

Note: Open container laws vary greatly by state. Research the laws of your state to learn about the specific permissions and penalties that would pertain to you.

What is an Open Container Violation?

In most states in the United States, you don’t necessarily have to be drinking while driving to receive an alcohol-related violation. If you have an open container in the passenger area, you could receive what’s called an “open container violation.” Both drivers and passengers are subject to these laws, and it applies whether the vehicle is parked or in motion. An “open container” is defined as any alcoholic beverage that has been opened, had contents removed, or even had its seal broken. However, it’s common for these laws to exempt low-content alcohol.

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Here is a list of what could be defined as an “open container”:

  • Cans
  • Bottles
  • Flasks
  • All other types of containers for alcohol

If I Get Pulled Over, Who’s Responsible?

By definition, open container laws prohibit the possession of an open container. Therefore, the person responsible would be the one who is in possession of the alcoholic beverage. However, if an officer pulls you and your passenger over and neither of you admit to being the owner of the container, then they will likely determine it based on whom the container is closest to and whether it’s within reach. It’s also likely that they might write a citation for both of you.

In some states, the driver is considered responsible for all open container violations in the car, so take caution and don’t let your passengers drink.

What is the Penalty for an Open Container Violation?

While penalties for open container violations vary by state, they are generally far less severe than getting a DWI. Usually, an open container would be considered a misdemeanor or infraction. While a jail sentence is more possible in some states than others, it is very unlikely you would be arrested (depending where you are). Instead, you will be fined a small to moderate amount, usually $100 or less.

Again, these penalties vary by state, so please research the laws of your state before taking any risks with open container violations. Also keep in mind that some states will penalize the driver much more harshly than the passenger, and drivers are more likely to serve a jail sentence or pay a larger fine.

Where in the Vehicle is an Open Container Allowed? Are There Exceptions?

Generally speaking, open container laws only pertain to the passenger area of a vehicle. The passenger area is any area that can be occupied by or within reach of a passenger or driver. In that case, the trunk of your car is typically the safest bet. However, if you don’t have a trunk, some states allow you to keep them behind the back row of seats. 

Non-alcoholic beer or low-content alcoholic drinks like kombucha are typically safe. Also, most states allow open bottles or cans in the living area of an RV or motorhome. Usually, rentals like limousines and party buses are also fine.

And while some states permit vendors to sell to-go alcoholic beverages, these are still subject to the open container laws, so don’t open them in the car!

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List of States That are Less Strict About Open Containers

  • Alaska – A passenger is allowed to drink alcohol, but the driver must not have an open bottle or can in their possession.
  • Arkansas – Open containers are allowed in the car, but neither the driver nor passengers are allowed to drink.
  • Connecticut – A passenger may possess or drink alcohol.
  • Delaware – Same as above.
  • Mississippi – Open bottles and drinking are permitted as long as the driver stays below 0.08% BAC.
  • Missouri – Open containers are allowed and passengers can drink, but the driver must not drink.
  • Tennessee – Passengers may drink.
  • Virginia – A passenger may drink but is also allowed to make an argument that the driver was drinking.
  • West Virginia – No one may drink, but open bottles and cans are fine.

Conclusion on Pulled Over with an Open Container

Open container laws vary by state, and while some places are less strict than others, you could get arrested if you have a violation. If you drive around with open bottles or cans of alcohol, make sure to research the laws of your particular state, and drive safely. In the instance you get pulled over, be honest about who is in possession of alcohol in the car, so you can avoid getting a worse penalty. After reading this article, you should now understand what would happen if you were pulled over with an open container and what you need to know about everything revolving around the subject.

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DISCLAIMER: The information on this website is not formal legal advice nor does it create an attorney-client relationship.

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