By: Larry Kohn, With More Than 20 Years of Experience Defending Open Container Law GA Charges and Related Traffic Offense Crimes
The phrase “open container law” could pertain to three subjects. The first (and the focus of this article) pertains to the Georgia Code provisions banning any open container of an alcoholic beverage in a motor vehicle. The open beverage law applies only to driving with an open bottle of alcohol (or other container such as a beer can or flask).
What is Considered an Open Container?
Regardless of the type of alcohol, if any “open” container of an alcoholic beverage is in a car, truck, SUV or minivan it is illegal to have this while driving anyplace in the State of Georgia. These rules are not the same for regulating Georgia boating laws open container.
What is the Open Container Law Fine?
In Georgia, the fine can be up to $200.
Is This Type of Law Limited to Only a Few Open Container States?
No, every state in America has an open container law, and Georgia’s is one of the least onerous laws. As can be discovered in this article, the emergence of these laws was by our federal government, in one of many legislative efforts to curb driving under the influence of alcohol. Open container laws have no applicability to open containers of drugs (e.g., prescription medicines or a bong).
The second common use of the phrase open container pertains to state or local laws in cities and counties permitting pedestrians in certain business districts to possess open alcoholic beverages. Each jurisdiction’s laws are unique and must be strictly followed. However, these laws are responsive to the need of local businesses dispensing alcohol to be able to survive financially when patrons want to imbibe outdoors.
Types of alcohol containers would include beer, wine, and distilled spirits (liquor). If a beverage contains one-half of one percent or more of alcohol by volume, it is considered an alcohol container. This rule applies whether it is a can, bottle or other receptacle that is either open, has a broken seal, or the contents have been partially removed.
The Origin of the Open Container in Georgia Law
To force states to pass stronger drunk driving laws, the federal government began passing legislation as early as 1966. Federal regulations called for holding back a percentage of a non-complying state’s highway funding until a state had enacted these laws making driving with an open container of wine, beer, or liquor. The violation and illegal act do not require an officer seeing you drink from the open container.
Each state was tasked with writing its own laws. However, before lifting the threat of loss of funds, the state had to enact satisfactory legislation to criminalize “possessing alcohol in car” laws. As a result, federally mandated open container laws were enacted in all states and the District of Columbia. Georgia’s law is found in OCGA Code Section 40-6-253.
This open container “mandate” is only one of several such “carrot & stick” federal actions. In 2000, President Bill Clinton used the federal purse strings to mandate that all states lower their adult BAC level for drunk driving 0.08 grams percent or less.
All states complied by amending their liquor laws, rather than lose millions annually in federal highway funds. Utah has now lowered its permissible “over the legal limit” for drivers age 21 and over to 0.05 grams percent. In most states, it is illegal for liquor stores to have drive-through windows, too.
For state open container statutes to comply with the federal definition of an open container violation, any open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle is covered. This also extends to the consumption of any alcohol beverage within a vehicle.
The states must also make it illegal for the passenger area of a motor vehicle to have any open alcohol container, including in the glove compartment or center console. This applies whether the vehicle is located on a public highway or right-of-way.
For vehicles that don’t have trunks (e.g., pickup trucks, minivans, motorcycles, and SUVs), an open alcohol container can be permitted behind the last upright seat or in an area not normally occupied by a driver or passengers. Some trucks have toolboxes, and all motorcycles have saddlebags,
in which to place the open container. Many times, our truck-driving clients charged with DUI in Georgia have had a cooler full of unopened and opened beer cans or bottles in the bed of the truck, but unreachable. Plus, don’t equate these laws to local pedestrian open container laws such as exist in part of downtown Savannah GA.
In Georgia, What Does the Open Container Law State?
First and foremost, no jail time comes from any open container charge, regardless of quantity inside the vehicle. The monetary fine amount a license demerit points are your punishments.
Some exceptions exist to the law’s application. If you have a motor vehicle designed maintained or used primarily for the transportation of a person or family as motor homes, and this is their residence. Think of the Gornicke family in the Robin Williams movie “RV.” Folks other than the driver could drink inside, in Georgia.
Having an alcoholic beverage or possessing a container in a tour bus or van hired for transportation of persons for compensation (charter vehicle or limousine), is also excluded, for the passengers. Possibly an exception for Lyft or Uber passengers may exist, but this case has not yet been testing at the Georgia appellate courts.
Possessing an open container in Georgia also adds two points to your driver’s license demerits at the Georgia Department of Driver Safety. Remember that amassing 15 points within a 24-month period results in a license suspension.
A special note for youthful motorists is appropriate. These 2 points for a young driver under age 21 can very quickly affect driving privileges (since accumulating 4 points within any 12-month period suspends these drivers). Plus, the State of South Carolina will totally suspend a driver’s right to drive for 6 months for an open container while being under age 21. Therefore, don’t assume that Georgia’s open container laws are as tough as neighboring states.
A simple on open container violation, standing alone, may not be something that will turn your life upside down. Violating Georgia DUI laws (if convicted of drunk driving) will alter your life, however, if you are convicted on that serious driving offense.
Our legal advocates have found that driving with an open container goes hand in hand with drinking and driving or drunk driving. The charges for these violations can be quite serious, affecting lives for the long-term.
Open Container Ticket Cost in GA
All drivers are subject to a fine of up to $200, if convicted. This is one of the nation’s most insignificant monetary punishments for violating a state open container law. Be aware that the law targets having an open container while driving, and when a passenger in that vehicle claims possession, the driver is not supposed to be charged.
Experienced Attorneys Near Me to Defend My Open Container in Georgia
Our lawyers in Atlanta in the law group behind GeorgiaCriminalDefense.com are experienced criminal law attorneys. Collectively, our criminal lawyers near me have been defending clients accused of open alcohol container violations for 76 years. (William Head – 43 years, Larry Kohn – 21 years and Cory Yager – 12 years).
Our Georgia criminal lawyers take the time to learn the facts surrounding your criminal case and we’ll put together your best defense possible. Whether negotiating with the prosecution for a lesser charge or having the charge against you dropped, we can help.
All states in the USA have laws on open alcohol in cars. As you will read below, the federal government caused these laws to be passed in order to TRY to lower the number of alcohol-related wrecks and crashes on out roadways. Wikipedia has created a chart of state by state legal provisions on open container laws.
Call our law group to ask for FREE legal advice today. While you may decide NOT to hire a lawyer, if you also face a DUI charge, do not self-represent. Our legal office offers a free lawyer consultation on ALL traffic ticket offenses.
Why not call 404-567-5515 and obtain specific information about how your traffic court handles pending charges? The advice is FREE. Bubba Head, Larry Kohn and Cory Yager are award-winning criminal lawyers near me in metro Atlanta GA and are ready to assist in your criminal defense.
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