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Open Container Violations in California

Posted in California Law on June 3, 2021

In nearly all circumstances, it is unlawful to consume alcohol while driving or as a passenger inside a motor vehicle on the roadway. Additionally, it is unlawful to consume marijuana while a vehicle is in motion, either for a driver or a passenger. When we consider open container laws, we want to discuss what this means for the possession of alcoholic beverages as well as marijuana. We also want to look at the penalties for open container violations as well as vehicle types that are not subject to open container laws.

Is it legal to drive with an open container in the car?

In almost all circumstances, it is not going to be legal to operate a vehicle with an open container of alcohol inside. California law makes it an infraction to operate on the roadway with any type of container that has been opened. For the purposes of California law, a container of alcohol will be considered opened if:

  • It is indeed open (i.e. the top is off)
  • The seal has been broken
  • Some of the contents have been removed

As we mentioned earlier in this article, it is important to point out that marijuana does count when it comes to open container laws. A marijuana container will be considered open if:

  • The container carrying the marijuana has been opened
  • The seal of the container carrying the marijuana has been broken

The open container law does contain an exception for driving with loose marijuana or open container of marijuana stored in the trunk of the vehicle. However, for open containers of alcohol, there is no trunk exception written into the law. A driver caught with an open container in their trunk would still likely have a strong argument that the container was not in their possession while they were operating the vehicle.

Penalties for violating open container laws

In general, open container violations are considered infractions. The maximum fine for most infractions is $250. However, offenses for an open container of marijuana top out at $100 fines.

That said, if there are drivers or passengers under the age of 21, they could face misdemeanor charges for possession of alcohol inside the vehicle, regardless of whether or not a container is open. Convictions of these offenses could result in a sentence of six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.

What types of vehicles aren’t subject to open container laws?

In California, there are various types of vehicles that will not be subject to California’s open container and consumption laws. This includes passengers riding inside of:

  • The living quarters of a camper or motorhome
  • Buses, taxi cabs, rideshare services, pedicabs
  • Limousines for hire

The owners and operators of these vehicles will also be exempt from any law prohibiting the storage of alcohol or open containers inside the vehicle.

Do you need an attorney?

If you or somebody you love has been issued a citation for an open container inside of the vehicle, you may need to speak to a Riverside defense attorney, particularly if you are facing any type of criminal charge associated with the infraction. An attorney can fully evaluate your situation and help get the infraction or charges reduced or dismissed so you will not end up with any mark on your criminal record.