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open container laws

Can Passengers Drink Alcohol in Vehicles?

open container laws

Everyone knows that it is against the law to drink alcohol and then drive a vehicle. This law exists because drunk drivers are very dangerous. Due to the alcohol, the driver’s ability to react properly while driving is greatly impaired. Drunk drivers are more likely to make reckless decisions and are less capable of avoiding an accident. Roughly 30% of all traffic-related deaths in the US are caused by alcohol-impaired drivers.

It is easy to see why drivers are forbidden from consuming alcohol. However, this does leave some people with a question, can passengers drink in vehicles? After all, they aren’t driving so their impairment isn’t really important. The answer to this question might surprise a lot of Californians.

California’s Open Container Laws

The state of California has several different laws that pertain to drinking and driving. Some of these laws pertain to the act of driving under the influence (DUI), and some pertain to having open containers of alcohol in vehicles. Collectively this second group of laws is known as the state’s open container laws.

The first law in the group, California Vehicle Code (VC) 23221 makes it illegal for anyone, driver or passenger, to consume alcohol while in a motor vehicle on a highway. Before anyone gets too excited, in this instance, a highway is any roadway or place that is publicly maintained for vehicular travel. This definition includes all public roads and parking lots.

There is an exception to this law. In for-hire vehicles, such as limousines, passengers are allowed to consume alcohol within the vehicle provided there is a divider or partition between the driver and the passengers. This helps ensure that driver doesn’t drink anything and can continue to do their job safely.

However, even in for-hire vehicles, if a minor is present, then no one is allowed to drink alcohol. This is due to VC 23224, which prohibits any minor under the age of 21 from driving a car that contains any alcoholic beverages, regardless of if they are open or not. This law also prohibits minors from being a passenger in a vehicle while possessing alcohol. The only time minors can be transporting alcohol is when they are accompanied by a parent, a legal guardian, or are doing so for their job.

Open Container Penalties

Breaking one co California’s laws, in most cases, is an infraction level offense. This means that they come with some small fines, usually around $250, and no possibility of jail time. That is, as long as the person isn’t charged with anything else, such as DUI. If they are facing other charges, then they could end up paying more in fines and face some jail time. Just having an open container in a vehicle alone is not enough to warrant a person being sent to jail.

It is important to note that whoever possesses the open container in the vehicle is the one who will receive the ticket, not the driver.

However, things get a little more severe if the person being charged is a minor under the age of 21. In those instances, breaking an open container law gets raised to a misdemeanor offense. In these instances, a person will face:

  • Up to 6 months in jail.
  • A max fine of $1,000.
  • A 1 year driver’s license suspension.
  • Having the vehicle impounded for 30 days.

The state of California takes underage drinking very seriously, and so the consequences for a minor having an open container in their vehicle are more severe.

Don’t Drink While in Vehicles

While it doesn’t seem like it could be a problem, passengers are restricted from drinking in a vehicle just like drivers are. The idea is to prevent a driver from having the chance to consume any alcohol. This way, no one gets into an accident where someone could be severely hurt.

california open container laws

Open Container Laws in California

california open container laws

Everyone knows about the dangers of drinking and driving. Consuming alcohol puts a person’s mind in a weird place. The person is still sort of aware of what they are doing, but they are incapable of doing things precisely. An intoxicated person may see something happening, but won’t be able to react in time, or in the right way, to prevent it.

This is why drunk driving is prohibited by law in every single state. Drunk driving is very dangerous and claims thousands of lives across the country every single year. However, it is not only the act of being drunk and driving that is illegal, especially here in California. There are also laws aimed at preventing the act from ever happening in the first place.

What Are Open Container Laws?

Being drunk while driving is bad. Drinking while driving is worse. That is why there are so many laws that make it illegal to have an opened container of alcohol inside of a motor vehicle. No one wants someone to grab a drink while they are behind the wheel.

The state of California has several different laws against drunk driving. One particular set is often, collectively, referred to as California’s Open Container Laws. This grouping of laws from Vehicle Code (VC) 23221 to VC 23229 covers every type of situation that might see an open container of alcohol within a motor vehicle.

When it comes to the term “open container,” the law views the following as open containers:

  • A container that has been opened.
  • A container with a broken seal.
  • A container whose contents have been partially consumed.

Under these definitions, it doesn’t matter if a lid or cork has been placed onto the container, it is still considered open. This also means that a person does not have to actively be drinking from the container to get in trouble. Just having the open container in the vehicle is illegal.

California’s Open Container Laws

California’s open container laws are as follows:

  • VC 23221 – This laws prohibits anyone from consuming alcohol while in any car, truck, or other automobile.
  • VC 23222 – This law prohibits anyone from possessing an open container of alcohol in their vehicle.
  • VC 23224 – This law prohibits anyone under the age of 21 from possessing an open container of alcohol in the vehicle.
  • VC 23225 – This law lays out how alcohol can be transported in vehicles, namely that alcohol containers must be stored in the “trunk” of a car.
  • VC 23226 – This law prohibits anyone from storing containers of alcohol in the passenger compartment of a vehicle.
  • VC 23229 – This law creates exceptions for in-hire vehicles, such as taxis and limousines. Basically, passengers of in-hire vehicles are allowed to drink in the vehicle, but drivers are not.
  • VC 23229.1 – This law prohibits in-hire vehicles from transporting alcohol when minors, under the age of 21, are riding in the vehicle.
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    There is a bit of overlap between some of these laws, which is likely due to the fact that the lawmakers just wanted to be thorough.

    Penalties for Breaking These Laws

    The penalties for breaking this law aren’t as bad as one might expect. For starters, breaking an open container law is an infraction level offense. This means there are no criminal charges and a person will not face any jail time. For these offenses alone anyways. However, if a person was drunk behind the wheel, then they can face DUI charges on top of open container charges.

    Breaking an open container law in California has a max base fine of $250 dollars.

    If a minor, anyone under the age of 21, is caught breaking an open container law, they face harsher consequences. Breaking an open container law as a minor is a misdemeanor level offense. This comes with:

    • Up to 6 months in jail.
    • A max fine of $1,000.

    Both types will also add points to a person’s driver’s license, which can lead to worse penalties down the line and increased insurance rates. Basically, it is in a person’s best interest to follow these laws, especially if they are under the age of 21.

    Don’t Drink in a Car

    Drinking and driving is a terrible thing to do. Not only does it put the driver’s life at risk, but it endangers any passengers in the vehicle, as well as everyone else on the road. One small mistake and the driver could wind up in a horrible accident. That is why there are so many laws against drunk driving.

    No one wants to be in an accident, and no one wants to get into trouble with the law, so it is best to never drink in a vehicle, or have an open container improperly stored within the vehicle. Doing either of those things could very quickly ruin someone’s day.

    What do you think about California’s open container laws? Is it a good idea for California to worry about this sort of thing? Are the penalties for breaking these laws too small, or not enough? Let us know what you think about these laws in the comments down below.