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Open Container Laws in California


In California, it is prohibited by law to have an open container of alcoholic beverages in a motor vehicle. This applies to both the driver and any passengers inside the vehicle. Generally, violation of an open container law is considered an infraction.

A container of alcohol is considered opened if:

  • its seal has been broken
  • it has been opened partially or fully
  • some (or all) of its contents are gone.

Alcohol can therefore only be carried inside the car if it is completely sealed, full, and unopened. Otherwise, the open container must be kept in a location where neither the driver nor passenger can easily reach, such as in the trunk. If police find an open container in an individual’s car after stopping him or her, the police will give the driver a citation. In situations where the passenger has an open container, the driver and the passenger will receive a citation.

Keeping In Accordance With the Law

To encourage states to follow the laws, the federal government established guidelines regarding open containers under the Transportation and Equity Act of 2001 (TEA-21). States that fully comply with the standards of TEA-21 receive federal funding for road improvements. If a state does not comply, part of their federal funding will instead be used for alcohol education programs.

Currently, 39 of the 50 states are in full compliance with this law, California being one of them. It is considered a violation of an open container law if a container containing alcohol is found in any of the following areas of a motor vehicle:

  • In the passenger area of any vehicle 
  • Inside an unlocked glove compartment
  • In any area of a vehicle that is readily accessible to the driver or seated passengers.

California also has open container laws that apply regardless of whether the vehicle is being driven. So, a person can violate these laws even if the vehicle is parked on a roadway or on lands designated for off-road vehicles.

As was stated earlier, open container violations are infractions, and they come with a maximum fine of $250. However, drivers and passengers who are under the age of 21 may face misdemeanor charges for possession of alcohol in a vehicle regardless of whether it is open. A conviction may carry up to six months in jail and/or a maximum fine of $1,000.

If you have been arrested for violating an open container law or have been involved in a DUI, then you should contact one of our specialized DUI attorneys at the Law Offices of Taylor and Taylor. We can discuss what you might be liable for and determine if there are any potential defenses that you can effectively use in your case.

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