Open Containers in Vehicles
Overall the issue of open containers in vehicles is not regulated at the Federal level. As an alternative, the states are free to regulate this matter at their discretion. The federal government has however attempted to provide encouragement for states to implement some form of vehicle open container control with the passing of TEA-21. The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century lays out guidelines regarding open containers in vehicles. Legally the states do no have to abide to them. However, if a state is not in full compliance part of their road maintenance funding will be allocated to alcohol education.
As of now most states are in full TEA-21 compliance. In order to be in compliance with TEA-21 states must: prohibit any open alcohol container or the consumption of alcohol in vehicles; prohibit open alcohol in vehicles in the passenger area including unlocked glove compartments where the driver can easily reach the container; prohibit all open alcohol containers with at least ½ of one percent of alcohol; prohibit open alcohol containers in any vehicle on the public highways including shoulders.
However, there are still seven states that allow open containers in vehicles; Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Mississippi, Missouri, Virginia, and West Virginia. Mississippi is the sole state that actually allows motorist to “drink and drive” (as long as they stay under the legal blood alcohol limit). The others only permit passengers to drink. There are another four states that have partly complied with TEA-21 (Alaska, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Wyoming). Also, open container laws may be instated at the local level. So, even though a state may not have a specific restriction to open containers, a town or city may.
Penalties for possessing an open alcoholic container in a vehicle differ depending on the jurisdiction and severity of the incident. Generally any conviction relating to DUI can be a life changing experience. Effects can include higher insurance, loss of coverage, fines, vehicle impoundment, mandated ignition interlock, embarrassment, employment complications, and jail time.
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