An open container law prohibits open containers of alcohol in certain areas such as public places and in vehicles. These laws vary from state to state. For vehicles, the federal government has established guidelines for open container laws under the Transportation and Equity Act of 2001 (TEA-21). 
 
States that fully comply with the six standards of TEA-21 will receive federal funds for roadway improvement. For states that do not comply, a portion of the funds must be used for alcohol awareness programs. Currently, 39 of the 50 states are in full compliance with TEA-21. 

How Do Open Container Laws for Vehicles Vary from State to State?

  • 39 states, including the District of Columbia, are in full compliance with TEA-21 federal standards. This means no open containers containing alcohol at all in:
    • The passenger area of any automobile
    • Unlocked glove compartments
    • Any area of the vehicle that is readily accessible to the driver or seated passengers
  • Alaska, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Wyoming have partial bans on open containers in vehicles. These states do not reach the level of conformity specified by TEA-21.
  • Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Mississippi, Missouri, Virginia, and West Virginia allow passengers to drink while the vehicle is in motion.
  • Only the state of Mississippi permits drivers to consume alcohol while driving. However, the driver must still stay below the 0.08% blood alcohol content limit for DUI.

What about Local Laws on Open Containers?

Local laws may also regulate open containers in vehicles. However, whether the local law complies with TEA-21 does not affect the entire state’s compliance under federal guidelines. Check with your local municipality to learn more about your area’s open container laws. 

Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you have been arrested for violating an open container law or for drunk driving, you should contact a criminal lawyer or a specialized defense to DUI lawyer to discuss your liability and any possible remedies you may have.