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. "Public places" in this context refers to openly public places such as sidewalks, parks and vehicles. It does not include nominally private spaces which are open to the public, such as bars, restaurants and stadiums. The stated 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]

The majority of U.S. states and localities prohibit possessing 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 that only prohibits possessing alcoholic beverage containers that have been opened (unless that container is in one's possession "for the purpose of recycling or other related activity") in public places owned by a city, county, or city and county, or any recreation and park district, regional park, or open-space district, but similar to states that have no law, the state law only applies to the some or all of the aforementioned areas in which the "city, county, or city and county have enacted an ordinance".[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 public places in the United States where open containers are explicitly permitted:

  • Indiana allows consuming an alcoholic beverage in public.[3]
  • Hood River, Oregon. This port city that rests along the Columbia River has no open container laws, and allows drinking in public.[4]
  • The city of Butte, Montana, prohibits open containers only between 2am and 8am. Drinking openly in the street is allowed throughout the city (and elsewhere in Montana where no local laws exist) during the other 18 hours of the day.[5] A recent attempt to pass a comprehensive open container prohibition in Butte met with widespread opposition and was dropped.[6] However, Montana state law does prohibit open containers in vehicles on a highway.[7]
  • In the Power & Light District of Kansas City, Missouri, a special Missouri state law[8] preempts Kansas City's ordinary local law against open containers[9] and allows the possession and consumption of alcoholic beverages on the street in open plastic containers.[10] 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.
  • In unincorporated Clark County, Nevada (including the Las Vegas Strip) the laws allow the possession and consumption on the street of alcoholic beverages except within parking lots or, if the alcohol was purchased in a closed container, on the premises of or within 1,000 feet (300 m) of the store from which it was purchased.[11] It is also illegal to possess a glass or aluminum beverage container on specially designated streets during special events, such as the Strip on New Year's Eve.[12]
  • 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). In some parts of Louisiana, however, open containers are still prohibited, despite the fact that drive-thru frozen daiquiri stands are legal.[13]
  • 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 US fluid ounces (470 ml).[14] Because Georgia has no state public open container law, the city law governs. Throughout the rest of Savannah, however, open containers remain prohibited.
  • Within an approximately 80-acre (32 ha) area of downtown Dalton, Georgia, city law allows possession and consumption on the street of one alcoholic beverage in an open paper or plastic cup of no more than 16 US fluid ounces (470 ml) between 12:30 p.m. and midnight.[15] The boundaries of the permitted area are Hawthorne Street, the western right-of-way of the L&N Railway, Morris Street, and Thornton Avenue.[15] The beverage must be dispensed by a licensed establishment in the designated area in a cup that meets specifications issued by the Downtown Dalton Development Authority.[15] Throughout the rest of Dalton, however, open containers remain prohibited.[16]
  • The state of Ohio, since 2015, allows cities to create a limited number of designated "outdoor refreshment areas" where alcoholic beverages are permitted (Sub. H.B. No. 47). Cities that have created these districts include Canton, Delaware, Hamilton, Lancaster, Lorain, Middletown and Toledo.[17][18][19]
  • The city of Mobile, Alabama allows open plastic containers with a commercially printed name or logo of a designated licensee.[20]
  • The city of Tampa, Florida allows up to two drinks in plastic containers per person on the Tampa Riverwalk, purchased from one of the licensed facilities along it, between 11am and 1am.[21]
  • In 2020, New Jersey made public drinking allowed in tourist spots such as the beach and boardwalk of Atlantic City, while Michigan allowed cities to grant social district permits for the open consumption of alcohol.[22]

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;[23]
  • 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;[23]
  • 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;[23]
  • 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;[23]
  • Apply to all vehicles on a public highway or the right-of-way (i.e. on the shoulder) of a public highway;[23]
  • 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.[23]

Currently, 39 states and the District of Columbia are in compliance.[23] 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]


  1. ^ "OPEN CONTAINER AND OPEN CONSUMPTION OF ALCOHOL STATE STATUTES". National Conference of State Legislatures. May 13, 2013. Retrieved January 15, 2014.
  2. ^ "California Business and Professions Code § 25620". California Office of Legislative Counsel. September 11, 2000. Retrieved July 19, 2021.
  3. ^ King, Robert; Haneline, Amy (January 26, 2018). "Everything you need to know about Indiana's alcohol laws". IndyStar.
  4. ^ Grasso, Chelsey. "8 Cities Where You Can Drink In Public — Which Is Useful Information To Have When You're Looking For A Good Time". Retrieved October 27, 2017.
  5. ^ "Ordinance banning open containers of alcohol in Butte now a reality". KBZK.com. Archived from the original on March 6, 2014.
  6. ^ Post, Justin (November 5, 2007). "Officials reconsider alcohol ordinance: Open container proposal may go different way". The Montana Standard. Retrieved March 14, 2014.
  7. ^ Services, Dale Matheson, Montana Legislative. "61-8-460. Unlawful possession of open alcoholic beverage container in motor vehicle on highway". leg.mt.gov.
  8. ^ Section 311.086, Revised Statutes of Missouri
  9. ^ Sections 10-134 and 10-135, Kansas City Code of Ordinances
  10. ^ Rick Alm, "Drinking to be allowed on street in Power & Light District," The Kansas City Star, July 27, 2005
  11. ^ "Municode Library". municode.com. Retrieved September 18, 2016.
  12. ^ "Municode Library". municode.com. Retrieved September 18, 2016.
  13. ^ See Louisiana Revised Statutes 32:300(B)(3)(b).
  14. ^ Savannah City Code Section 6-1215
  15. ^ a b c "Dalton, Ga Code of Ordinances, Sec. 6-9(c)". Municode. Retrieved November 24, 2017.
  16. ^ "Dalton, Ga Code of Ordinances, Sec. 6-9(a)". Municode. Retrieved November 24, 2017.
  17. ^ Wang, Robert (June 3, 2016). "City officials, First Friday attendees kick off outdoor refreshment district". The Repository. Retrieved December 2, 2016.
  18. ^ Henderson, Tim (October 28, 2016). "To Enliven Downtowns, Some Cities Promote Public Drinking". The Huffington Post. Retrieved December 2, 2016.
  19. ^ Salomone, Cecilia (July 9, 2018). "Middletown expands its Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area". Dayton Business Journal. Retrieved July 10, 2018.
  20. ^ PRESCOTTE STOKES III, Open-container enforcement will get stricter in Downtown Mobile July 13, 2016
  21. ^ "The Ultimate Guide to Open Container Laws in Tampa Bay". Clark Law. August 26, 2016. Retrieved March 5, 2018.
  22. ^ "Murphy signs bill making permanent Atlantic City open-container rules".
  23. ^ 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 April 22, 2013.

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