Open Container Laws

Drinking and driving and public intoxication are both issues that have led to the creation of “open container laws.” After a few drinks, a person can display behaviors that are dangerous, destructive and/or present a lack of common sense that is necessary to protect the interests of all others. Each state in the U.S. has different open container laws that restrict the ability of citizens to make poor choices after drinking alcohol.

In order to encourage states to comply with open container laws and the concerns over public alcohol consumption, The United States Federal Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) and MAP-21 acts were established over the past 15 years. These acts include six different aspects to open container laws:

  • Prohibit the possession of any open alcoholic beverage container and the consumption of any alcoholic beverage in a motor vehicle;
  • Law enforcement must include the examination of the passenger area of any motor vehicle in any traffic stop, including any areas of the vehicle that are within reach of the seated driver or passengers;
  • All alcoholic beverages are included in these laws;
  • All vehicle occupants are subject to open container laws, with exceptions for those riding in taxis, limousines or buses;
  • All vehicles on a public highway are subject to these laws;
  • Law enforcement is not required to have “probable cause” regarding any other vehicle violations in order to stop a vehicle suspected of violating open container laws.

39 states are currently in compliance with TEA-21, and, as such, receive financial incentives for highway construction. For states not in compliance, a percentage of transportation funds is redirected to alcohol education programs. These laws have been shown successful in reducing the rates of alcohol-related vehicle crashes, including a 5.1% reduction in fatal crashes in states with open container laws.

The overwhelming public support for these laws indicates that the majority of citizens believe that by eliminating open containers of alcohol in vehicles, the catastrophic issues that can occur through drinking and driving can be reduced. Open container laws are a source of security and safety for everyone, including drivers, passengers and the occupants of other vehicles on the road.

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