By: Rebecca Pirius, Attorney
In Idaho, it’s unlawful to drink or possess an open beverage container of alcohol in a vehicle that’s on a public road or the right-of-way. Unlike with a driving under the influence (DUI) charge, the open container law applies even if the driver is sober. This article provides an overview of the open container law’s prohibitions and exceptions.
Idaho’s open container law prohibits both drivers and passengers from drinking or possessing an open beverage container of alcoholic liquor, beer, or wine in a vehicle. Alcoholic liquor is defined as:
To transport unsealed alcoholic beverage containers in a vehicle, the container must be in the trunk or behind the last upright seat if there is no trunk.
(Idaho Code §§ 23-505, 23-1333 (2017).)
Passengers in vehicles primarily used by paying customers—such as buses and limousines—are exempted from the open container law. In addition, passengers in the living space of a recreational vehicle can drink and possess alcohol. However, these exemptions do not apply to drivers.
(Idaho Code § 23-505 (2017).)
Punishments. A violation of the open container law is a misdemeanor for a driver in “actual physical control” of the vehicle. (A person in the driver’s seat of a moving or running vehicle is considered in actual physical control.) The maximum penalty for a misdemeanor is six months in county jail and a $1,000 fine.
Violation of the open container law by a passenger is an infraction. With court costs and other fees, an open container citation costs around $100—as an infraction, an open container violation cannot be punished by jail time.
Underage offenders. Underage offenders (persons younger than 21) are subject to the same punishments as listed above. In addition, the court can order an underage offender to undergo an alcohol evaluation and complete an alcohol treatment or education program. Driver’s license sanctions apply to underage misdemeanor offenses—resulting in loss of driving privileges for up to one year.
(Idaho Code §§ 18-113, 18-113A, 18-1502, 18-8004 (2017); I.I.R. Rule 9 (2017).)