Drinking and Driving as a Passenger

So you are excited about the election results and want to get drunk? You know better then to not want to drink and drive. But how about being a passenger in the car and downing a 40 oz while your designated driver takes you bar hopping during this pandemic? If you have a driver’s license, you should know that motorists are not permitted to drive while under the influence of alcohol or other impairing drugs. But can a passenger drink alcohol in a car? The answer to this question is usually no, but it could depend on the specific state that you are in.

Most states have laws prohibiting the presence of open cans, bottles, or other unsealed containers of alcoholic beverages (even if empty) on sidewalks, streets, and inside vehicles. So by default, a passenger drinking an alcoholic beverage also is in possession of an open container. Some states allow unsealed containers of alcohol in secure locations only, such as a locked glove compartment or trunk.

A total of 43 states have open container laws in place, 40 of which conform to federal standards outlined in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), which mandates open container laws and other traffic safety measures.

Drivers may be cited for an open container violation if they have the container on their person or within reach. But even if only the passenger is in possession of an open container, both the driver and the offending passenger may be cited for a violation. In any case, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of an offending passenger is irrelevant.

Seven states currently do not have open container laws, including Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, West Virginia, Virginia, Delaware, and Connecticut, even if local ordinances in some of those states do in fact prohibit open containers of alcohol. Three states have open container laws (Alaska, Louisiana, and Tennessee) that do not fully comply with federal TEA-21 standards.

The short answer is yes. As long as there are no local ordinances banning open containers in vehicles, passengers in states without such laws can in fact drink alcohol in a moving vehicle. Mississippi is the most permissive, even allowing drivers to drink as long as they remain under the legal BAC limit.

Some municipalities have carved out exceptions to open container laws in an effort to boost tourism, such as the French Quarter in New Orleans, but the majority of such ordinances do not allow open containers in vehicles (typically limited to streets and sidewalks). The French Quarter, infamous for its drive-through frozen cocktail vendors, allows both drivers and passengers to have open containers of alcohol in vehicles, as long as the driver is not drinking.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

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10.0Gregory Wayne Schwesinger
10.0Saad Qamer Qadri
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