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United States open container laws

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United States open-container laws

Granholm v. Heald, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Craig v. Boren

United States

In the United States, open container laws regulate or prohibit the existence of open containers of alcohol in certain areas, as well as the active consumption of alcohol in those areas. "Public places" in this context refers to openly public places such as sidewalks, parks and vehicles. It does not include nominally private spaces which are open to the public, such as bars, restaurants and stadiums. The purpose of these laws is to restrict public intoxication, especially the dangerous act of operating a vehicle while intoxicated. Open container laws are state laws, rather than federal laws; thus they vary from state to state.


Open containers in public

The bare majority of U.S. states and localities prohibit possessing and/or consuming an open container of alcohol in public places, such as on the street, while 24 states do not have statutes regarding public consumption of alcohol. However, the definition of "public place" is not always clear. California is unique in that it does have a state law on the books, but similar to states that have no law, the state law only applies to areas in which the "city, county, or city and county have enacted an ordinance."

Open container restrictions are not always rigorously enforced, and open containers may in fact be legally permitted in nominally private events which are open to the public. This is especially true in downtown districts and during holidays and sporting events; see tailgate party.

There are a few public places in the United States where open containers are always permitted in the street:

  • The city of Butte, Montana, prohibits open containers only between 2am and 8am. Drinking openly in the street is allowed throughout the city (and elsewhere in Montana where no local laws exist) during the other 18 hours of the day. A recent attempt to pass a comprehensive open container prohibition in Butte met with widespread opposition and was dropped. However, Montana state law does prohibit open containers in vehicles on a highway.
  • In the Power & Light District of Kansas City, Missouri, a special Missouri state law preempts Kansas City's ordinary local law against open containers and allows the possession and consumption of alcoholic beverages on the street in open plastic containers. Although Missouri has no statewide open container law, the Power & Light District remains the only part of Kansas City where open containers are allowed actually on the street, and throughout the rest of Kansas City, open containers remain expressly prohibited.
  • In unincorporated Clark County, Nevada (including the Las Vegas Strip) the laws allow the possession and consumption on the street of alcoholic beverages except within parking lots or, if the alcohol was purchased in a closed container, on the premises of or within 1000 feet of the store from which it was purchased. It is also illegal to possess a glass or aluminum beverage container on specially designated streets during special events, such as the Strip on New Year's Eve.
  • The entertainment district along Beale Street in Downtown Memphis, Tennessee, is specially exempt from both Tennessee's statewide open container ban and Memphis's local open container ban, thereby permitting the open consumption of alcoholic beverages on the street.
  • The city of New Orleans, Louisiana allows the possession and consumption on the street of any alcoholic beverage in an open plastic container (not in glass bottles or containers). Throughout the rest of Louisiana, however, open containers are still prohibited, despite the fact that drive-thru frozen daiquiri stands are legal.
  • In the Savannah Historic District of Downtown Savannah, Georgia, city law allows possession and consumption on the street of one alcoholic beverage in an open plastic container of not more than 16 ounces. Because Georgia has no state public open container law, the city law governs. Throughout the rest of Savannah, however, open containers remain prohibited.
  • The town of Fredericksburg, Texas allows open containers of beer or wine (no liquor) in its Main street shopping district.
  • The city of Hood River, Oregon, has no open container ordinance. Oregon statewide open container laws only pertain to vehicles.
  • The city of Erie, Pennsylvania has no open container law; consumption of alcoholic beverages is not generally prohibited in public spaces.
  • The village of East Aurora, New York has no open container law; consumption of alcoholic beverages is not generally prohibited in public spaces.
  • The city of Canton, Ohio was one of the first cities in Ohio to allow the open consumption of alcoholic beverages in a "designated outdoor refreshment area" pursuant to a state law enacted in 2015 (Sub. H.B. No. 47).
  • Open containers in vehicles

    To comply with the TEA-21 rules of the federal Department of Transportation, a state's motor vehicle open container laws must:

  • Prohibit both possession of any open alcoholic beverage container and consumption of any alcoholic beverage in a motor vehicle;
  • Cover the passenger area of any motor vehicle, including unlocked glove compartments and any other areas of the vehicle that are readily accessible to the driver or passengers while in their seats;
  • Apply to all open alcoholic beverage containers and all alcoholic beverages, including beer, wine, and spirits that contain one-half of one percent or more of alcohol by volume;
  • Apply to all vehicle occupants except for passengers of vehicles designed, maintained or used primarily for the transportation of people for compensation (such as buses, taxi cabs, and limousines) or the living quarters of motor homes;
  • Apply to all vehicles on a public highway or the right-of-way (i.e. on the shoulder) of a public highway;
  • Require primary enforcement of the law, rather than requiring probable cause that another violation had been committed before allowing enforcement of the open container law.

  • Presently, 39 states and the District of Columbia align with the stipulations of TEA-21. However, Alaska, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Wyoming have enacted restrictions on the possession of open containers in vehicles that do not fully satisfy the TEA-21 compliance criteria.


    United States open-container laws Wikipedia

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