What's an open container?
An open container is not just the cracked open can of Pabst Blue Ribbon in your cup holder. It's also the half-drank bottle of Jack Daniels lying on the back seat from four months ago.
Open container laws do not just restrict bottles and cans that are open and uncapped. The laws also restrict bottles that have had the seal broken, but the cap screwed back on. Therefore, if the container is still sealed as it was when you bought it, the law does not apply.
General rule: If it has ever been opened at all, leave it in the trunk.
Where can I store it?
Keep it in the trunk, or in a locked container. If it has ever been opened and it is within the passenger compartment (including the glove box and center console) you can get a ticket for it.
What should I do if I am caught?
If you are under 21 and the container is not actually open and within arm’s reach, the law allows you to transport alcohol according to your parents’ instructions. The law does not specify open or closed. You may also transport alcohol if it is part of your job. Tell your tale accordingly.
If you are over 21, and the container is not within arm’s reach, be friendly to the cop. The ticket is not worth that much, unless you appear to be driving under the influence. In the past, some people have been let off with a warning. If the container is open and handy, prepare for field sobriety testing.
Or, just put the darn bottle in the trunk.
What happens if I am caught?
Well, if you are under 21, the penalties are harsh. Minors are not even allowed to transport alcohol, unless it is part of their job or if they are doing so for their parents. Those caught with alcohol, open or not, face up to six months in jail and up to $1000 in fines.
If you are over 21, the punishment should be nothing more than a ticket for a few hundred dollars. However, if the driver smells like alcohol or the container is within arm’s reach, don’t be surprised if you are subjected to field sobriety tests and possibly arrested for DUI if you fail.
To summarize, if you are under 21, you should probably consult an attorney, as the penalties are severe and can include a license suspension. If you are over 21, play nice, be sober, and you might not get a ticket. If you do, check the ticket for payment instructions.
Oh, and if you have less than an ounce of illegal weed handy while driving? It’s a $100 fine, less than you’d pay for having that legal alcohol in your car. You might still be subject to a field sobriety test, however.
This post is part of FindLaw’s Legal U series. We are working to help you learn what to do in your city to cope with some of the legal problems, questions, or issues that come up in daily life. Please come back to learn more from future posts in this series.
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- Learn About Dog Laws In Los Angeles (Legal U, FindLaw’s Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog)
- How to Fight a Traffic Ticket in L.A. (Legal U, FindLaw’s Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog)
- Top Five Things to Do if You Are Pulled Over for a DUI (FindLaw’s Los Angeles DUI Blog)