Open container laws are designed to reduce or prevent drunk driving and to keep communities safe. The open container laws typically restrict where people can drink alcohol in the public and are used to prevent rowdy behavior.1 Federal law does not mandate that states adopt open container laws. However, those that do not have open container laws will lose federal transportation subsidies.2 Specifically, in 1998 there was a Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) Restoration Act that encouraged states to adopt the laws that prohibit possession and consumption of alcoholic beverages in passenger areas of a vehicle.3 In order to fully comply with the federal law, it must apply to all vehicle occupants unless the passenger area of the motor vehicle is designed, maintained, and used primarily for the transportation of people for compensation.4
Does Arizona have an open container law?
Arizona does have an open container law. In Arizona, it is unlawful for anyone to (1) consume spirituous liquor while operating or while within the passenger compartment of a motor vehicle that is located on any public highway or right-of-way of a public highway in the state and (2) possess an open container of spirituous liquor within the passenger compartment of a motor vehicle that is located on any public highway or right-of-way of a public highway in the state. A.R.S. § 4-251(A). These laws do not apply to passengers on buses, limousines, or taxis or passengers in the living quarters of a motor home. A.R.S. § 4-251(C). A violation of an open container law is a class 2 misdemeanor. A.R.S. § 4-251. Typically, a first-time DUI charge if your blood alcohol concentration is at a 0.08% or more is a class 1 misdemeanor. This means that Arizona is in full compliance with TEA-21 federal standards, so no open containers are allowed in any passenger area of the vehicle, glove compartments, or any area of the vehicle that is readily accessible to the driver or seated passengers.5
What about other states?
Not all states have open container laws for vehicles. The states that do not have open container laws that meet federal requirements are Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.6 Specifically, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Mississippi, Missouri, Virginia, and West Virginia allow passengers to drink alcohol while the vehicle is in motion.7 In Mississippi, it is legal to drive while drinking an alcoholic beverage and in other states it is legal to drive with an open bottle of alcohol in the car’s cup holder.8 There are not any other states that allow a driver to consume alcohol while driving, and Mississippi law still prosecutes those who drive with a blood alcohol concentration over 0.08%. For the states that do have open container laws, many of them vary as well. For example, in Delaware the open container laws apply to spirituous liquor but not beer.9 Laws are constantly changing and shifting, but most states have chosen to adopt the federal act that outlaws having open containers in vehicles.
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1 Open Container Law, CRIMINAL.FINDLAW.COM, http://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-charges/open-container-law.html (last visited Jan. 26, 2015).
2 Open Container Law
3 Janet L. Kaminski Leduc, Open Container Laws, CGA.CT.GOV (Feb. 7, 2008), http://www.cga.ct.gov/2008/rpt/2008-r-0128.htm.
5 Peter Clarke, Open Container Laws By State, LEGALMATCH.COM, http://www.legalmatch.com/law-library/article/open-container-laws-by-state.html (last visited Jan. 28, 2015).
6 11 States That Don’t Have Typical ‘Open Container’ Laws For Vehicles, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM (Jan. 24, 2014 11:26 AM), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/24/open-container-law_n_4653013.html.
7 Peter Clarke
9 Heather Morton, Open Container and Open Consumption Of Alcohol State Statutes, NCSL.ORG (May 13, 2013), http://www.ncsl.org/research/financial-services-and-commerce/open-container-and-consumption-statutes.aspx.