What are Open Container Laws?

Women Drinking in a Shopping CartOpen Container laws are regulations designed to control who consumes what in a public setting. Just about every community has them, unless, of course, the community in question is a small, one-horse town in the middle of Wyoming. In that case, there may not be any containers to have open.

In all seriousness, open container laws are usually put in place to prevent public intoxication and driving while under the influence. They are an acknowledgment that alcohol consumption has a proper time and place. The opposite is also true.

Can the White House change open container laws?

Much to the surprise of many Americans, the White House does not have the authority to do whatever it pleases. When it comes open container laws, the federal government has no jurisdiction to act. Such laws are the domain of state and local municipalities. However, lack of jurisdiction has not stopped Washington from sticking its nose in state business in the past.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal funding for state highway work can be diverted away from road projects and put into fighting drunk driving in any state that refuses to implement and force open container laws. In other words, while Washington can’t create open container laws, they can strongly encourage states to do so by withholding federal money.

Does every state have open container laws?

FindLaw says that not every state has open container laws. In fact, there are a total of seven states without such laws including Virginia, West Virginia, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, Delaware, and Connecticut. There are also some cities and special districts where public alcohol consumption is allowed, despite local and state laws.

It’s important to note that the state laws governing open containers are usually very general, leaving specific details up to local municipalities. The laws are also typically divided into two sections: open containers in public places and open containers in a car.

How are open containers restricted?

The most common method of restricting open containers is to do so based on size, material (e.g., glass, aluminum, etc.), and content. For example, the reason you see winos walking down the street with paper bags plastered to their faces is because local open container laws prohibit a glass bottle full of wine from being open in public. The wino is trying to conceal his open bottle with a paper bag.

In an area like the Las Vegas strip, open containers are allowed 24 hours a day, every day of the year. But during some special events, when foot traffic is extremely heavy, containers are limited to those made of plastic only. It all depends on local ordinances and their many exceptions.

Why don’t open container laws apply to sports stadiums?

The typical American sports stadium offers an interesting dilemma to open container laws. If the stadium is privately owned, that’s one thing. Open container laws cannot be enforced on private property. But most venues used by one of the major sports leagues are actually public property owned by the county or the state.

Some states have figured out there’s a problem and modified their open container laws to exempt sports venues. Others simply choose to ignore those laws during sporting events. Apparently, the lure of tens of thousands of dollars of income from a single game is too lucrative to let a few little nuisance laws get in the way.

Just in case you’re wondering, the same rules apply to the parking lot areas around many of these sports venues. If you’ve ever been to a football tailgate party, you know what we mean. The alcohol at a tailgate party flows more freely than cuss words from the late George Carlin’s mouth.

What if I’m caught violating open container laws?

Whenever you’re caught breaking the law there’s always the risk of prosecution and punishment. Thankfully, when open container laws are violated in public places, people usually get off with a warning or a mere violation. Persistent offenders or those observed to be highly intoxicated may face arrest.

Violating open container laws in your car, however, is an entirely different matter. That’s taken a lot more seriously, under the assumption that an open container means you’re drinking while you’re driving. And we all know that is a “no-no.” If you’re caught with open containers in your car, you’re in for serious trouble, Buster.

For example, Florida’s Ladan Law Firm explains that the law in the Sunshine State refers to an open container as any alcohol container within easy access or one that is literally, physically open. If you’re caught with an open container in Florida you’ll definitely be prosecuted. If convicted you could spend some time in jail.

Because open container laws are so different from one municipality to the next, you’ll need to check with your city, town, or county if you’re interested in learning more. But just remember this: the police don’t appreciate public intoxication under any circumstances. If you don’t plan to remain sober, you’re likely to have trouble with the police whether or not you’re carrying an open container.