Can You Get an Open Container Ticket for Transporting Alcohol?

July 17, 2018

You’ve probably heard it said before that it is illegal to drive with an open alcoholic beverage in your vehicle. Yet such a statement is quite general; it’s in knowing the exact details of it that will help you should you ever be issued traffic tickets for this infraction. For example, are your passengers able to have open drinks in their possession? What if your job involves transporting alcoholic beverages (or passengers that consume them)? Better yet, how does the law define “open container” in the first place?

What Is an “Open Container?”

Answers to all your questions can be found in Sections 23221-23229 of California’s Vehicle Code. To begin, let’s start with the most basic question: What is an “open container?” State law defines an open container as any bottle, can or other receptacle containing an alcoholic beverage that is in any of the following conditions:

  • Opened
  • Partially or entirely consumed
  • With a broken seal

This means that for you to be cited for this infraction, you don’t even have to be drinking the beverage when an officer pulls you over. It’s mere presence in the car in any of the aforementioned states is enough to warrant a charge. Even an empty drink container whose contents were consumed previously could potentially leave you needing to search for qualified traffic lawyers in your area. What’s more, your passengers are not allowed to be carrying open containers themselves, either. Not only could they face charges for doing so, but you potentially could as well for allowing it.

Transporting and Storing Open Containers

Now for the good news: simply having open containers in your vehicle should not prompt you to immediately think you need help with traffic tickets in California. That’s because there are exceptions to these laws. The most obvious (of course) is if you are transporting alcoholic beverages as part of your job. Your employer, however, must be licensed under the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Act for you to qualify for this exception. Keep in mind as well that even with this exception, the beverages you’re transporting must be stored appropriately (e.g., not in the cup holder next to the driver console).

Speaking of storage, you don’t necessarily have to be hired move open containers to transport them. You can do so for your own purposes provided it is stored in an area to which you do not have easy access to while driving. The first such place that comes to mind is likely your trunk, and indeed, the law does in fact state that you can transport your open containers in there. Another less obvious place is your glove box. Unfortunately, a cooler placed in any of the passenger compartments of your vehicle does not count.

Carrying Passengers with Open Containers

What if your job requires transporting passengers that may have open containers? Section 23229 of the VC states that you may indeed carry passengers with such containers if you drive any of the following vehicles:

  • Buses
  • Taxi cabs
  • Limousines

The law does not clarify whether personal vehicles used to offer rideshare services qualify under this statute. Others that do, however, are housecars or campers (provided the open containers are only possessed by passengers in the living quarters.

One important element to note: nearly all the aforementioned exceptions do not apply if you (or a passenger possessing an open container in your vehicle) is under the age of 21. All of these laws also apply to the possession of marijuana, as well.

We’re Here to Help

As you can see, there are a great number of complexities involved with open container laws (so many, in fact, that one simple article often isn’t enough to detail all of them). Not to worry; California’s state statutes are available online for you to review. Of course, actually understanding what they mean requires a familiarity with both basic legal terminology and the state’s criminal code. That’s where having a resource like an experienced traffic court lawyer comes in handy. You won’t find a better attorney for traffic tickets than those here at The Ticket Clinic. Simply fill out our online contact form, and one of our attorneys will get back to you at your earliest convenience.