Open container laws vary from state to state. While most states have some form of these types of laws, North Carolina has developed several specific regulations for open containers of alcohol.
Violations of open container laws may involve fines and other penalties. If you have been charged with an open container violation, contact Strickland, Agner & Associates for help.
Understanding North Carolina Open Container Laws
It is illegal to transport an open container of alcohol in the passenger area of a vehicle in our state. It’s important to note that people in a parked car with an open container are still in violation of the law.
The law applies to both drivers and passengers alike. Motorcycles, ATVs, and golf carts are not exempt.
Only the person who possesses or consumes an alcoholic beverage in the vehicle will be in violation and shall be charged. This means that the driver would not necessarily be in violation of transporting an open container of alcohol unless he or she was in possession of and had consumed the alcohol.
All alcoholic beverage containers (open or closed) are prohibited in any commercial motor vehicle without a specific permit. This includes semi-trucks, buses, garbage trucks, and others.
What Is Considered an Open Container?
Under North Carolina law, a container of alcohol is considered open if the seal is broken.
Transporting open containers of the following types of alcohol is illegal:
- Fortified and unfortified wine
- Beer or other malt beverages
- Spirits (hard alcohols such as vodka, whiskey, and tequila)
- Mixed beverages
The few exemptions to North Carolina’s open container laws are for limousines, taxis, and other vehicles for hire, as well as the living quarters of recreational vehicles or motor homes.
Can You Have a Closed Container of Alcohol in Your Vehicle?
Yes. Any unopened containers can be transported in the passenger area of the vehicle. Legally speaking, the passenger area is not just where the driver and passengers are seated. Any area that can be reached by someone who is sitting in the car (which includes the glove compartment) is considered part of the passenger area.
Open containers of alcohol can be transported as long as they are in areas of the vehicle that are not easily accessed, like the trunk. If you are driving an SUV or a hatchback vehicle, the law permits you to transport open containers behind the back seats.
Only specific amounts of alcohol can be transported in a passenger vehicle. Above these amounts, you must have a license to transport:
- Draft malt beverages in a keg
- Up to 80 liters of malt beverages not in a keg
- Unfortified wine in the amount of 20 liters or less
- Eight liters or less of liquor or fortified wine, or a combined eight liters of both.
The exception to this law is specific commercial vehicles that have a specific permit to transport alcohol.
Is it Illegal to Have an Empty Alcohol Bottle in Your Car?
The law considers any open container to be illegal if it is in the passenger area of the car. An empty container may be transported in an area that is not easily accessed by the driver or passengers. This means that if you must transport an empty bottle of alcohol, you should do so by placing it in the trunk of the vehicle before driving on public roads.
What Is the Punishment for Driving with an Open Container?
Driving with an open container of any alcoholic beverage is a Class 3 misdemeanor for the first offense. It becomes a Class 2 misdemeanor for any subsequent offenses.
The first offense carries a fine of up to $200 and up to 20 days in jail. The punishment for a subsequent offense may be fined up to $1,000 and up to 60 days in jail.
Transporting an Open Container of Alcoholic beverages is an infraction and is not considered a moving violation for DMV purposes.
In addition to the potential fines that you may be forced to pay, a misdemeanor conviction for an open container violation will be on your permanent criminal record. This could have negative effects when seeking employment in the future. If the driver of the vehicle is charged with DWI and there is an open container in the vehicle, stiffer fines and jail time may be issued.
What Should I Do If I Receive a Citation for an Open Container?
Strict liability does not apply to open container laws. This means that if you were unaware that an open container was in your vehicle, you might not be liable for it. The law requires that you know that a container was open for you to be guilty.
If you have been cited for an open container violation, you should contact an experienced North Carolina criminal defense attorney to discuss your rights and your legal options as soon as possible.
Protecting YOU from THEM!
If you have been charged with an open container violation in North Carolina, the attorneys of Strickland Agner Pittman can help. We know what it takes to defend you against these charges, and we’re ready to fight for you. We understand the open container laws in this state, and we know how to build a convincing case on your behalf.