Driving license holders should be aware that motorists aren’t allowed to drive under alcoholic influence or DUI. However, confusion still lurks whether a passenger has the legal permission of drinking alcohol or similar impairing drugs inside a car or not. There are bright chances of ‘no’ but the laws may differ from state to state.
Laws on open container use
Majority of states follow DUI laws abolishing the use of open cans, unsealed containers, and bottles with alcoholic beverages inside. It is applicable on streets, nooks, corners, sidewalks and even inside the vehicles. In such a scenario, an individual consuming alcoholic beverage is likely to be in possession of a container. There are certain states allowing unsealed alcoholic containers in limited locations. It may include a trunk or even locked glove compartment.
There are 43 states with laws on open container in full fledged operation. Out of this, there are 40 states complying with federal standards which are marked in TEA-21, an act. It is the Transportation Equity Act which is mandating such laws and various traffic security measures. For open container breach, a driver may be booked provided the person has container within reach. However, the passenger with possession of such container may be summoned along with driver for law violation. Blood alcohol concentration or BAC of the offending passenger is simply irrelevant.
There are seven states with no such laws on open containers or bottles. It includes Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Missouri, Mississippi, Virginia, and West Virginia. However, some of these states have ordinances in place prohibiting such containers with alcohol inside. Some states including Louisiana, Tennessee and Alaska have DUI laws on open containers which are not completely complying with federal Transportation Equity Act standards. However, there are still clouds over a passenger allowed to consume alcohol inside a vehicle or not. This is particularly in absence of DUI laws banning the use of open containers.
The answer, ‘Yes” would come as a relief for many. States with no legal authoritative order prohibiting open containers use inside vehicles, passengers are allowed to drink alcohol within a moving automobile. Mississippi is most lenient where drivers have permission to drink up to legitimate BAC limit.
There are certain municipalities which have etched out laws and mandates on open containers. It is an effort towards boosting the tourism sector like New Orleans’s French Quarter. However, most of these ordinances hardly permit open containers inside vehicles. They might be limited to just sidewalks and streets. French Quarter gives permission to passengers and drivers to use open containers inside vehicles. However, it is applicable as long as the driver isn’t drunk.
There would be a need for legal advice and consultation for those booked under DUI. An experienced lawyer with specialization of defending such cases can analyze the evidences on offer. It includes the processes and outcomes of chemical and standard field sobriety tests. It is done to ensure legal rights of the so called offender are well protected. The best way to approach would be speaking to an attorney accustomed to laws in relevant jurisdictions.
Image credit: Wan Chiang Tan