Most states have some form of “open container” laws, which govern whether people in a vehicle can possess open containers of alcohol. Drivers and passengers alike need to understand what they are allowed to do so that they do not run into legal trouble.
Here is an overview of what is allowed under the open container laws.
When is a container “open”?
A container is considered to be open if its seal has been broken and/or you are able to drink from it in its current state. If a container can be completely resealed, such as a wine bottle, it might not be considered open, though the rules on this can be fairly specific.
What does the law prohibit?
In Florida, neither the driver nor the passengers of a vehicle can legally possess an open container of alcohol. This applies to a moving vehicle and a vehicle parked or stopped along a road. This means that it would be illegal for you and your friends to be parked on a street with open bottles of alcohol, even if you are not driving at the time.
Open containers in the car are usually considered to belong to the driver, unless the passenger has clear control of the container, such as holding it in their hands.
Can I ever possess open containers in a vehicle?
There are a few exceptions to the open container law:
If you are a passenger in a commercial vehicle and the driver has a proper commercial license that allows it, you may possess open containers in their vehicle.
If you are a passenger in a motor home that is at least 21 feet long, you are allowed to have open containers of alcohol.
You may take one bottle of wine home from a restaurant as long as it is completely resealed by the restaurant, contained in a bag that has a receipt and is locked in the glove compartment or trunk.
What are the penalties for an open container?
This depends on who possessed the open containers. Florida allows counties and cities to increase the severity of penalties and the strictness of the law from the federal standard, so penalties may vary.
For drivers, having an open container is considered a non-criminal moving traffic violation. You could face fines up to $100, or much more. Depending on the county, the fine could be higher and may possibly include jail time. Though it is non-criminal, it counts as a mark on your license.
For passengers, this is a non-moving traffic violation. The fines could be up to $50, or higher fines and jail time could be included depending on the county. If you have questions about open container law, your rights or your options if you were already charged with a misdemeanor, a skilled attorney can provide answers and guidance for your situation.