United States open container laws

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In the United States, open container laws regulate or prohibit the existence of open containers of alcohol in certain areas, as well as the active consumption of alcohol in those areas. Typically these laws concern public places, such as parks and vehicles. The purpose of these laws is to restrict public intoxication, especially the dangerous act of operating a vehicle while intoxicated. Open container laws are state laws, rather than federal laws; thus they vary from state to state.

Open containers in public[edit]

New Orleans, Louisiana, where the possession and consumption of alcoholic beverages in open plastic containers is allowed in the street

The bare majority of U.S. states and localities prohibit possessing and/or consuming an open container of alcohol in public places, such as on the street, while 24 states do not have statutes regarding public consumption of alcohol.[1] However, the definition of "public place" is not always clear. California is unique in that it does have a state law on the books, but similar to states that have no law, the state law only applies to areas that the "city, county, or city and county have enacted an ordinance" in.[2]

Open container restrictions are not always rigorously enforced, and open containers may in fact be legally permitted in nominally private events which are open to the public. This is especially true in downtown districts and during holidays and sporting events; see tailgate party.

Places where legal[edit]

There are a few public places in the United States where open containers are always permitted in the street:

  • The city of Butte, Montana, has no open container ordinance. Drinking openly in the street is allowed throughout the city (and elsewhere in Montana where no local laws exist).[3] A recent attempt to pass an open container prohibition in Butte met with widespread opposition and was dropped.[4] However, Montana state law does prohibit open containers in vehicles on a highway.[5]
  • In the Power & Light District of Kansas City, Missouri, a special Missouri state law[6] preempts Kansas City's ordinary local law against open containers[7] and allows the possession and consumption of alcoholic beverages on the street in open plastic containers.[8] Although Missouri has no statewide open container law, the Power & Light District remains the only part of Kansas City where open containers are allowed actually on the street, and throughout the rest of Kansas City, open containers remain expressly prohibited.
  • On the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada and on the Fremont Street Experience in the city of Las Vegas, the law allows the possession and consumption on the street of any alcoholic beverage in an open container throughout the year, although the container must be plastic for certain special events such as the 4th of July and New Year's Eve.[9][disputed ] Because Nevada has no statewide public open container law, local law governs. Although open containers usually are allowed throughout the rest of Las Vegas, they are prohibited at certain times of the year, except in the Strip.[9][disputed ] Confusion may arise since the area commonly known as the Las Vegas Strip lies outside the city limits of Las Vegas, while within the city limits of Las Vegas an open container purchased as such at a licensed bar or club within the city limits may be carried anywhere within the city limits - while only Fremont Street Experience has no such limitations.[10]
  • The entertainment district along Beale Street in Downtown Memphis, Tennessee, is specially exempt from both Tennessee's statewide open container ban and Memphis's local open container ban, thereby permitting the open consumption of alcoholic beverages on the street.
  • The city of New Orleans, Louisiana allows the possession and consumption on the street of any alcoholic beverage in an open plastic container (not in glass bottles or containers). Throughout the rest of Louisiana, however, open containers are still prohibited, despite the fact that drive-thru frozen daiquiri stands are legal.[11]
  • In the Savannah Historic District of Downtown Savannah, Georgia, city law allows possession and consumption on the street of one alcoholic beverage in an open plastic container of not more than 16 ounces.[12] Because Georgia has no state public open container law, the city law governs. Throughout the rest of Savannah, however, open containers remain prohibited.
  • The town of Fredericksburg, Texas allows open containers of beer or wine (no liquor) in its Main street shopping district.
  • The city of Hood River, Oregon, has no open container ordinance.[13] Oregon statewide open container laws only pertain to vehicles.[14]

Open containers in vehicles[edit]

Prohibition of Open Containers of Alcohol in Motor Vehicles as of 2009

To comply with the TEA-21 rules of the federal Department of Transportation, a state's motor vehicle open container laws must:

  • Prohibit both possession of any open alcoholic beverage container and consumption of any alcoholic beverage in a motor vehicle;[15]
  • Cover the passenger area of any motor vehicle, including unlocked glove compartments and any other areas of the vehicle that are readily accessible to the driver or passengers while in their seats;[15]
  • Apply to all open alcoholic beverage containers and all alcoholic beverages, including beer, wine, and spirits that contain one-half of one percent or more of alcohol by volume;[15]
  • Apply to all vehicle occupants except for passengers of vehicles designed, maintained or used primarily for the transportation of people for compensation (such as buses, taxi cabs, and limousines) or the living quarters of motor homes;[15]
  • Apply to all vehicles on a public highway or the right-of-way (i.e. on the shoulder) of a public highway;[15]
  • Require primary enforcement of the law, rather than requiring probable cause that another violation had been committed before allowing enforcement of the open container law.[15]

Currently, 39 states and the District of Columbia are in compliance.[15] Alaska, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Wyoming have similar limits on the possession of open containers in vehicles, but not to the level of TEA-21 compliance.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ "OPEN CONTAINER AND OPEN CONSUMPTION OF ALCOHOL STATE STATUTES". National Conference of State Legislatures. 13 May 2013. Retrieved 15 January 2014. 
  2. ^ "California Business and Professions Code Section 25620 - California Attorney Resources - California Laws". Law.onecle.com. 2013-02-22. Retrieved 2013-04-22. 
  3. ^ Emeigh, John Grant (1 July 2007). "Open-container law important, area communities, police say". Montana Standard. Retrieved 14 March 2014. 
  4. ^ Post, Justin (5 November 2007). "Officials reconsider alcohol ordinance: Open container proposal may go different way". The Montana Standard. Retrieved 14 March 2014. 
  5. ^ Montana Code Annotated 61-8-460, 2005, at http://leg.mt.gov/bills/mca/61/8/61-8-460.htm
  6. ^ Section 311.086, Revised Statutes of Missouri
  7. ^ Sections 10-134 and 10-135, Kansas City Code of Ordinances
  8. ^ Rick Alm, "Drinking to be allowed on street in Power & Light District," The Kansas City Star, July 27, 2005
  9. ^ a b Las Vegas Municipal Code Sections 10.76.010-020, 10.77.020-030
  10. ^ http://vegasseven.com/latest/2013/04/02/what-s-all-about-city-s-open-container-laws-i-thought-vegas-didn-t-have-those
  11. ^ See Louisiana Revised Statutes 32:300(B)(3)(b).
  12. ^ Savannah City Code Section 6-1215
  13. ^ "City of Hood River". Ci.hood-river.or.us. Retrieved 2013-04-22. 
  14. ^ "ORS 811.170 - Violation of open container law - 2011 Oregon Revised Statutes". Oregonlaws.org. 2012-03-25. Retrieved 2013-04-22. 
  15. ^ a b c d e f g "U.S. Department of Transportation - NHTSA - Open Container Laws and Alcohol Involved Crashes: Some Preliminary Data - DOT HS 809 426 - April 2002". Nhtsa.dot.gov. Retrieved 2013-04-22.