Iowa’s Open Container Law and Ticket Penalties

The open container law in Iowa and the penalties for possessing open containers of alcohol in a motor vehicle.

By , Attorney · Thomas Jefferson School of Law

Under Iowa's open container law, drivers and passengers are generally prohibited from possessing open containers of alcohol in a vehicle. However, there are certain areas of a vehicle where open containers can legally be placed, and passengers can possess open containers in some types of vehicles.

This article provides an overview of Iowa's open container law and the consequences for violating the law.

Iowa's Open Container Law

It's unlawful for a driver or passenger to possess an open container of alcohol in the passenger area of a motor vehicle that's on a public street or highway.

An open container is defined as any "open or unsealed bottle, can, jar, or other receptacle" that contains an alcoholic beverage.

The "passenger area" is the area designed for the driver and passengers to sit while the motor vehicle is in operation. It also includes the glove compartment and any area that is "readily accessible" to the driver or a passenger while they're seated.

Exceptions to Iowa's Open Container Law

An open container of alcohol can be kept in the trunk of a motor vehicle or behind the last upright seat if the vehicle doesn't have a trunk.

Generally, Iowa's open container law applies to both drivers and passengers. However, the law doesn't apply to passengers in a motor vehicle used primarily for the transportation of persons for compensation. Passengers may also legally possess an open container of alcohol in the living area of a motor home, motorsports recreational vehicle, manufactured or mobile home, travel trailer, or fifth-wheel travel trailer.

Penalties for Open Container Tickets in Iowa

Violation of the open container law by a driver or a passenger is a simple misdemeanor. The scheduled violation fine is $200.

For a driver, an open container conviction is considered a moving violation and will add points to the driver's record.

Open Container Violations for Underage Offenders in Iowa

A person under 21 years of age is subject to the same open container violation penalties as an adult offender. However, in addition, a driver or passenger who is 18 to 20 years of age and possesses alcoholic beverages in a motor vehicle can be convicted of "possessing alcohol under the legal age" (PAULA).

A PAULA offense is a simple misdemeanor punishable as a scheduled violation. A first offense is punishable by a fine of $200. A second offense is a simple misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $500. Second offenders also must choose between completing a substance abuse evaluation and having their license suspended for up to one year. A third offense is a simple misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $500 and a license suspension of up to one year.

Instead of imposing a fine, the court can order an underage person to perform community service work if the judge believes that it will deter the offender and discourage others from similar criminal activity. The rate of community service is calculated at the federal or state minimum wage, whichever is higher.

An underage person can petition the court to expunge a conviction after two years if the offender hasn't had any other criminal convictions.

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