Open Container Laws in the United States
Open container laws prohibit the presence of any type of unsealed container that contains or contained an alcoholic beverage. They can include bottles, cans, and flasks as well as other types of containers inside vehicles, on the street, and on the sidewalk. Unsealed containers can be full, partially full, or even empty.
The U.S. federal government has provided states with a set of standards under the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), which they are strongly advised to use when writing laws related to open containers. However, the right to create open container laws still falls on individual states. Currently, 43 of the 50 states have some form of open container laws in place. 40 comply with the federal standards, and Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Mississippi, Missouri, Virginia, and West Virginia do not have any open container laws in place.
Louisiana Open Container Law
In Louisiana, the open container law as defined by LA Rev Stat § 32:300 prohibits the driver of a vehicle and the passengers from having an open container of an alcoholic beverage while operating the vehicle on a public highway or right of way. It is also illegal for the passenger to consume an alcoholic beverage while in the car and it is being operated.
Exemptions to the Louisiana Open Container Law
There are exemptions to this law:
- Any person who, as a condition of their employment, is required to carry open alcoholic beverages can do so as long as they or their passengers do not consume the alcohol.
- Any passenger that pays a fare in any common, contract, or public carrier vehicle.
- Any passenger in a courtesy vehicle while it is being operated as a courtesy vehicle
- Any passenger of a self-contained motor home that is more than 21 feet long, and the open container is in the trunk of the vehicle. If the vehicle does not have a trunk, the open container may be in a locked glove box or utility box or an area of the vehicle that is not normally occupied or is not readily accessible to the driver or passengers.
- Passengers riding on a parade float
- Passengers riding in a privately owned limousine in which the driver has a Class D commercial driver’s license.
It should also be noted that a municipal ordinance in New Orleans allows the consumption and possession of alcoholic beverages in open plastic containers in certain districts such as the French Quarter.
Drive Through Daiquiri Shops
An area of confusion regarding open container laws in Louisiana revolve around the many drive-through daiquiri shops in the state. A daiquiri in a cup in a vehicle is indeed legal in Louisiana when it is sealed. The term "sealed" is defined in this way:
- The lid is not or has not been removed
- There is no straw protruding from the drink, either through the lid or otherwise
- The contents of the cup have not been partially or completely removed
What's the Bottom Line?
When in doubt, the best course of action is, don’t do it. If you have an alcoholic beverage and you aren’t certain if it meets the criteria under the law the best thing you can do is put it away. Lock it in your trunk or glove box. Don’t take the chance of getting arrested, or worse, in a car accident; it isn’t worth it. Even if you haven't sipped an ounce of alcohol, you can still get a DUI, and that's certainly something you don't want on your record.
Questions? Contact an Experienced Louisiana Attorney
If you are facing a charge related to the Louisiana open container law, you need an attorney who will stand by you, who knows the law and will help you navigate the legal system. If you need legal representation for an open container case, schedule a free consultation to find out how we can help you.