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F.S. 316.1936 - Open Container Alcohol in Vehicle

Florida’s open container law, F.S. 316.1936, prohibits possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages in an open container inside a motor vehicle while someone is driving. This rule also extends to passengers - with some exceptions. 

Caught with an open container? It’s a noncriminal moving traffic violation, typically punishable by $90 if you’re a driver and $60 if you’re a passenger (assuming it’s your first offense). 

Individual local and county governments may have ordinances that impose stricter penalties. In some jurisdictions, the fine can go up to $500 and 60 days in jail. County and city ordinances are also free to impose further restrictions on where individuals can have open containers (i.e., beaches, public streets, etc.). 

Given that Florida open container violations aren’t criminal and the fines are relatively manageable, some may wonder what’s the point of hiring a Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyer

A few reasons it’s smart to hire a lawyer for an open container violation:

  • It will be a stain on your driving record, meaning potential adverse implications for job prospects, child custody/parenting time arrangements, etc. 
  • An open container violation in 3 points on your Florida driver’s license. 
  • Auto insurance rates are likely to go up for this citation. 
  • We can ask the court to dismiss the citation outright. 
  • We can ask the court to withhold adjudication and help you avoid points being assessed against your license. 
  • Open container citations are often not the only allegation you’re facing - particularly if you were the driver. If you were in actual physical control of the vehicle while having possession of an open container, there’s a good chance you’re also facing DUI criminal charges – which are more serious. 

Even if you know you were in the wrong, having a defense lawyer work to minimize the impact of these effects is often well worth the attorney’s fees. 

What is an Open Container? 

According to the statute, an open container is understood to be any open container of an alcoholic beverage that is capable of being consumed from or the seal has been broken. 

That is a fairly broad definition, but case law has established that the following can qualify as an “open container” for purposes of violating F.S. 316.1936:

  • An alcohol bottle or can that is empty – even bone dry – can be considered an open container under the statute. It applies even if you weren’t drinking out of it whatsoever. 
  • Any alcohol bottle, cup, container, can, or other receptacle other than the beverage’s original container with an unbroken seal, cap, cork, or other means of closure. 

One significant exception pertains to bottles of wine that have been resealed. So for example, let’s say you go out to a restaurant, don’t finish your wine, and ask to take the rest of the bottle home with you – you can ask the staff to cork it. So long as that bottle is then placed in a secure container or bag (with receipt) and transported in a locked part of the vehicle, you aren’t violating the open container law. 

Where Are Open Containers Prohibited?

F.S. 316.1936 prohibits open containers of alcohol in motor vehicles on any public road. It also applies to vehicles that are parked or stopped. Even if you’re parked on the street or alley outside your house, you could be cited for open container possession. 

Drivers can be considered in possession of open alcohol containers those containers:

  • Are not possessed by the passenger. 
  • Are not locked in the glove box, trunk, or other locked/non-passenger portion of the vehicle. 

Passengers can be considered in possession of open alcohol containers if those containers:

  • Are within the physical control of the passenger. 
  • Are within the passenger’s area of the vehicle. 
Is an Open Container Ever Allowed in a Vehicle?

There are a few exceptions to Florida’s open container law. 

One of those pertains to RVs (recreational vehicles) and campers. If you’re a passenger in a self-contained motor home that is at least 21 feet in length, you are allowed to drink alcohol within the living quarters of that camper. However, if you’re the driver, you are still prohibited from possessing or consuming alcohol while you’re operating the vehicle. 

It’s also not unlawful to have an open container in a boat (though legal intoxication limits are the same whether you’re driving a car or a boat). 

Another exception pertains to passengers inside a commercial vehicle being driven by someone with a valid commercial license OR where the vehicle is being driven for hire (i.e., bus, limo, taxi, etc.). This is why drinking in so-called “party buses” is allowed. 

However, this exception does not carry over to your Uber or Lyft. Rideshare drivers aren’t operating commercial vehicles and they don’t have a commercial driver license. 

Consuming alcohol in a vehicle parked on private property is generally legal. Some sporting events have designated tailgating events where alcohol consumption is permitted around vehicles parked outside arena stadiums.

In general though, our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers think it wise to find somewhere besides your car to drink - especially if you’re not sure whether the property on which you’re parked is public or private. 

If you are cited for open container in Broward County, Miami-Dade County, or Palm Beach County, we can help. 

Call The Ansara Law Firm today for your free initial consultation at (954) 761-4011.

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