Can you carry an alcoholic drink in a plastic beer mug while walking down your city’s main street? The answer depends on the open container laws in your state and local community.
Open containers laws serve a number of goals. Most notably, open container laws seek to:
Maintain the quality-of-life for community residents and business by preventing people from being drunk in public, preventing rowdy behavior.
Prevent car, bus, and other motor vehicle accidents outlawing the use of alcohol by drivers and passengers.
Maintain federal highway construction fund subsidies for states. Under federal law, states that lack open container laws lose federal transportation subsidies.
Not every state or municipality, however, prohibits drinking and carrying alcohol in public places, such as sidewalks and city parks. For example, a few notable tourist destinations, like Las Vegas and New Orleans, do not have open container laws.
Open Container Laws: What Are They?
An open container law restricts where people can drink alcohol in public. Exactly what a public place is depends on your state or city’s laws, and how courts have interpreted those laws.
Depending on the particular laws and court rulings, violations of open container laws may occur when one drinks or possess an open container of alcohol while:
On a public sidewalk
Inside your own parked car
On the front steps or in the common hallway of your apartment building.
On school property
In a mobile home
In a residential neighborhood
In a parking lot
Open container laws are designed to protect communities by reducing injuries from drunk driving (DUI and DWI) and disorderly conduct.
Congress passed the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) in 1998 to give states a financial incentive for restricting drinking in motor vehicles. State that fail to enact open container laws lose a portion of federal highway construction funds.
Open Container Law Exceptions
Currently, only seven (7) states lack open container laws that would otherwise prohibit drinking alcoholic beverages in public.
The city of New Orleans lacks strict open container laws, but it does require people who drink alcohol on sidewalks and streets to do so only from plastic cups. This Mardi Gras destination also prohibits drinking alcohol in a parking lot. Similarly, the city of Las Vegas permits public consumption of alcohol from a glass container on all but a few holidays, like New Years Eve and July 4th.
The main reason that some locales do not have open containers laws is to promote tourism by encouraging tourists to support local businesses by drinking at bars, restaurants, hotels, and in specific districts, such as New Orleans’ French Quarter and the Las Vegas Strip.
But remember, cities that don’t have open container laws do enforce other quality-of-life rules, including laws that prohibit:
Public nuisance (loud behavior)
Disorderly conduct (unruly or destructive behavior)
Arguing with police
Driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI / DWI). If you have become intoxicated while lawfully drinking under an open container law, do not drive.
Contesting Open Container Law Citations – Your Legal Rights
If you or a loved one have experienced or are charged with an open container law violation, you may be able to defend and fight the charge in court.
It is very important that you contact a DUI or criminal defense attorney to learn how they may be able to help you or your family.
Some of the legal factors that an open container law attorney can review with you include:
Whether you or your loved ones, given the particular facts of your case, actually violated city or state law
Whether the arresting police or law enforcement officer followed the law
Whether your conduct did or did not constitute a criminal violation
Open Container Laws – Getting Legal Help
A DUI attorney or a criminal defense lawyer may be able to help you in an open container law violation case.