Kentucky’s Open Container Law

The law and penalty for possessing an open alcoholic beverage in a motor vehicle in Kentucky.

Kentucky’s open container law generally prohibits drivers and passengers from possessing open containers of alcoholic beverages in motor vehicles. However, there are a few exceptions to this general prohibition. This article provides an overview of Kentucky’s open container law, exceptions to the law, and the penalties for violating the law.

Open Container Law

In Kentucky, a person commits a violation of the open container law by possessing an open container of an alcoholic beverage in the passenger area of a motor vehicle when it’s located on a public highway or on the right-of-way. The law applies to both drivers and passengers.

Alcoholic beverage. An “alcoholic beverage is defined as:

  • beer and any other similar fermented beverage containing .5% or more of alcohol by volume
  • wine with .5% or more of alcohol by volume, or
  • distilled spirits in any form.

Open alcoholic beverage container. An “open alcoholic beverage container” means any can, bottle, or other receptacle containing any amount of alcoholic beverage that:

  • is open
  • has a broken seal, or
  • has had the contents partially removed.

Passenger area. The “passenger area” encompasses 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 passengers while they’re seated.

Public highway or right-of-way. A “public highway” or “right-of-way of a public highway” is defined broadly and includes the entire width between and adjacent to the boundary lines of every “way” that is publicly maintained and open for public use for vehicular travel.

Exceptions

Trunk and locked compartments. An open alcoholic beverage container can lawfully be kept in a locked glove compartment or in the trunk of a motor vehicle. If the vehicle doesn’t have a trunk, the open container can be kept behind the last upright seat or in an area not usually occupied by the driver or passengers.

Passengers in certain types of vehicles. Kentucky’s open container law doesn’t apply to passengers who are in the passenger area of a motor vehicle that is used primarily for the transportation of persons for compensation. For example, a passenger can legally possess an open container of alcohol in the passenger area of a bus, taxi, or limousine. Passengers can also lawfully possess an open container of alcohol in the passenger area of a recreational vehicle, motor home, or motor coach.

Partially consumed bottles of wine. A restaurant can permit customers who have purchased a meal and consumed part of a bottle of wine to take the partially consumed bottle home. To legally transport one partially consumed bottle of wine in a motor vehicle, the restaurant must:

  • securely reseal the bottle
  • place the bottle in a container that makes it visibly apparent if it has been subsequently opened or tampered with, and
  • provide the customer with a dated receipt for the wine.

This exception also requires the person transporting the wine to place it in a locked glove compartment, trunk, or other areas that are not in the passenger area.

Penalties

A person who possesses an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle commits a violation offense, punishable by a fine. The minimum fine is $35 and the maximum fine is $100.

Other Laws Prohibiting Consumption of Alcohol and Drugs

Kentucky also has laws that prohibit drinking in vehicles. Kentucky’s public intoxication laws prohibit drinking alcohol in public places and appearing in public intoxicated by drugs or alcohol. A public place is defined as an area in which the public or a substantial group of people have access to and includes areas such as highways, transportation facilities, and parks.

Public Drinking or Intoxication by Alcohol

It’s unlawful for a person to:

  • appear in a public place under the influence of alcohol to a degree that the person may “unreasonably annoy” other persons in the vicinity or endanger himself or herself, other persons, or property, or
  • drink an alcoholic beverage in any public place, passenger coach, or vehicle used for the transportation of passengers.

For a first or second public drinking or alcohol intoxication conviction, the minimum fine is $25. A third or subsequent conviction within twelve months is punishable by $25 to $100 in fines and/or five to 90 days in jail. On a third or subsequent offense, the defendant may also have to complete alcohol or substance abuse treatment.

Public Intoxication by Drugs

It’s also illegal for a person to appear in a public place under the influence of a controlled substance to a degree that the person may unreasonably annoy other persons in the vicinity or endanger himself or herself, other persons, or property.

A person who appears in public intoxicated by a controlled substance commits a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by jail for up to 90 days and/or a maximum fine of $250.

Multiple Charges

For a single event, a person can’t be charged with an open container offense and a public intoxication offense. In other words, even if the offender has violated both laws, the prosecutor must decide whether to charge the person with an open container violation or one of the public intoxication offenses.

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