Can a Passenger Drink Alcohol?
Is the driver liable for a passenger possessing an open container of alcohol?
Is it legal for a passenger to drink alcohol while in your car?
If you are driving in Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Missouri, Mississippi, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Virginia, it is not illegal for passengers to drink freely from open containers of alcohol (In Mississippi, the driver is also free to imbibe while driving as long as the driver's .BAC remains below .08%.) In Arkansas and West Virginia, the passenger can possess an open container but cannot drink while in the motor vehicle or on public highways.
Open Container Laws
In the remaining 40 states and the District of Columbia, it's illegal for a passenger to drink alcohol or possess an open container while in a vehicle. These states conform to the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) and by doing so are entitled to certain federal funds for highways. The TEA-21 guidelines establish that the state laws must:
- Prohibit possession of any open alcoholic beverage container and the consumption of any alcoholic beverage in a motor vehicle.
- Specify the passenger area of any motor vehicle – any area designed to seat the driver and passengers while the motor vehicle is in operation and any area that is readily accessible to the driver or a passenger while in their seating positions, including the glove compartment.
- Apply to all alcoholic beverages.
- Apply to all occupants, including the driver and all passengers (with exceptions for a motor vehicle designed, maintained or used primarily for the transportation of persons for compensation (e.g., buses, taxis, limousines) and passengers in the living quarters of a house coach or house trailer.
- Specify on a public highway or the right-of-way of a public highway.
- Specify primary enforcement. Under a primary enforcement law, officers have the authority to enforce the law without the need to show that they had probable cause to believe that another violation had been committed.
Note many states have open container law exceptions that pertain to bringing home unfinished wine purchased at a restaurant.
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