An Overview of Alcohol Related Charges in Vehicles

Having alcohol in your vehicle does not always put you at risk for a DUI/DWI, but police often issue citations for other alcohol-related offenses that will still have a negative effect on your driving record. Experience attorney, Douglas Lauenstein, explains the various charges someone with an open container of alcohol in their vehicle could face.

Drunk driving is not the only alcohol-related driving offense. Although drinking and driving is perhaps the widest known alcohol related charge, there are other alcohol-related behaviors that are also prohibited inside a vehicle. Besides Driving under the influence (DUI) and driving while impaired (DWI), open container violations are the most common charge involving alcohol and vehicles.

Open Container on Person

You could be charged with having an open container of alcohol on your person if you are driving a motor vehicle on a public road, and have a bottle, can or glass that contains any amount alcohol within your arm’s reach. You can also be charged if you have an unsealed container of alcohol or a container from which some of the alcoholic contents are missing.

If you are found to have an open container anywhere in the passenger area of the vehicle you are driving, the police officer will very likely require you to take a DUI test. Police officers generally charge violators with the most serious of their offenses, although one person can be charged with several offenses at once. For example, a drunk driver with an open beer can in the driver’s cup holder will receive a charge of DUI, but may also be charged with an open container on person violation.

Open Container in Vehicle

If an open container is not within your reach, in many states you could still be charged for having an open container in your vehicle. It is also illegal in some states for passengers to drink while the vehicle is in motion. Although this offense is less serious than the charge issued for an open container on the driver’s person, it may still have serious effects on your driving record and your ability to obtain affordable auto insurance.

You could be charged with having an open container in your vehicle if you are the registered owner or driver of a vehicle that is driving on a public road and contains a container of alcohol anywhere but in the vehicle’s trunk. If you drive a truck, the container simply must be in some area of the vehicle that is deemed “unoccupied.” The container must have some amount of alcohol in it when it is discovered, or the seal must be broken, or some of the contents must be missing. There may be exceptions made in the cases of motor homes.

In the case of open container in vehicle violations, it is possible for both the driver and the passenger to be charged. The driver would be charged with having an open container in the vehicle, while the passenger would be charged with having alcohol or drinking alcohol inside a vehicle. The only possible defense for you in such a case would be if you were truly unaware that there was an open container of alcohol, or that alcohol was being consumed in your vehicle.

For example: you and your friends are on your way to a concert, and you are the designated driver. You helped load all of the pre-concert party in the trunk, but one of your friends wanted to take a few shots before arriving, and snuck a few small airplane bottles of liquor into the backseat in his pocket. You are pulled over for a busted tail light right after your buddy secretly takes a swig of one of the bottles. If you are charged with an open container violation, you can argue that you had no intention of allowing open containers in your passenger seats, nor were you aware that you friend had made the ill-advised decision to begin his pre-concert party early.

Drinking in Your Vehicle

In every state except Mississippi, drinking in the vehicle you are driving is forbidden. You do not need to be intoxicated to be charged with drinking in your vehicle, although the two sometimes come hand in hand. It is standard for this charge to come with an open container violation.

For more information on open container violations and other alcohol related offenses, contact Douglas Lauenstein today.