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  • By: Kevin Leckerman, Esq.
  • Published: April 2, 2012
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There Actually Is an Open Container Law

When I was a young driver I heard rumors that you could be arrested for having an open container in a vehicle. I was confused from the beginning. I couldn’t figure out whether or not or not it was okay to drink a soda in a vehicle. A soda was a beverage, right? I would have to open it to drink it. Why did the government care about whether I drank a soda in my car? Luckily, I learned that by beverage, the law was referring to alcoholic beverages. That, of course, made more sense.

Open container laws were created to help prevent the consumption of alcohol while driving. Across the United States, alcohol has been linked to many vehicular deaths. The goal of these laws is to reduce the amount of alcohol-related deaths by penalizing the use of alcohol under certain circumstances.

New Jersey is one of the many states that has an open container law. This law not only prohibits the consumption of alcohol while operating a vehicle, but it also prohibits the simple possession of an opened container of alcohol in the car. The law states the following:

39:4-51b. Prohibition of possession of open, unsealed alcoholic beverage container, circumstances

a. All occupants of a motor vehicle located on a public highway, or the right-of-way of a public highway, shall be prohibited from possessing any open or unsealed alcoholic beverage container.

What is considered an opened or unsealed container? An open container is a beverage that is easily accessible to drink. Any opened container that is in the passenger compartment is considered to be an open or unsealed container under the law. If the container is in the trunk of the car or located behind the last upright seat in a trunkless vehicle, then the container is not prohibited. Empty containers may also fall under the definition of open if they are in a location that is accessible and contain residue of an alcoholic beverage.

The open container law applies to everyone in the vehicle. It does not matter if there is a designated driver. As long as there is an open container in the car and the passengers or driver can easily reach it while the car is in motion, someone is getting in trouble. There are some exceptions however. Open containers are allowed in limousines, buses and taxis.

The open container law in New Jersey does not call for jail time. In New Jersey, the penalty for breaking the open container law is a $200 fine. If caught a second time, the fine increases to $250 plus possible community service for 10 days. Also, there is no license suspension. The open container law is less of a punishment than a DWI charge and more of an expensive warning. It may be worth it, if it saves a life.

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