It is illegal to consume alcohol while operating a vehicle anywhere in the U.S. However, there are seven states that do not prohibit passengers from having open containers of alcohol in their vehicles, and Virginia happens to be one of them.
Open container law allows you to have an open container in your vehicle if you follow certain guidelines. However, the law is commonly misunderstood, and people are often stopped, detained and even arrested by the police for failing to follow it correctly.
What is an open container?
An open container refers to any vessel that holds an alcoholic beverage that is not the original sealed manufacture’s container. For example, if you’ve filled an empty water bottle with alcohol and are transporting it in your car, this would be considered an open container.
Here are some more details about open container law in Virginia:
The law. It is not technically illegal in Virginia for passengers to carry alcohol in a moving vehicle. It is illegal, however, for drivers to consume alcohol while operating a vehicle on a public highway in Virginia.
The reality. Just because it is not illegal for passengers to have alcohol in a vehicle, it’s usually not a good idea. If you’re pulled over with an open container and the officer presumes that the driver has been drinking, either because the alcohol is located in the passenger area and easily accessible to the driver, the container has been opened and alcohol has been removed, or the driver exhibits signs of inebriation, than it’s likely the driver will be charged with DUI.
Places you can keep alcohol in your car. It is best to keep open containers in the trunk of your car where they cannot be accessed by the driver, or in an area behind the last upright seat in an SUV or station wagon.
Penalties for having an open container. If a driver is charged with an open container violation, they will face a misdemeanor charge that carries a $250 fine. In addition, it’s possible to be charged with a DUI if the driver is inebriated.
Can a minor get in trouble for having alcohol in the car? In Virginia, it is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to purchase or possess alcohol. Unless the alcohol is being transported for pre-approved work-related reasons, a minor caught with alcohol can face fines, community services, jail time, suspension of license and the potential loss of scholarships.
Although the penalties for an open container violation may not seem harsh, remember, even a misdemeanor charge can stay on your record and have an adverse effect on your future.
Contact experienced DUI defense attorneys in Virginia
At the NoVa Law firm, our DUI attorney have nearly 20 years of experience defending our neighbors in Northern Virginia. Our lawyers know how to protect your rights, fight in court, and win trials to have DUI charges dismissed. If you have been charged with an open container violation or DUI, give us a call today at (703) 352-9347 to discuss your case, or contact us here online.