Driving

Arizona's Open Container Laws: Motor Vehicles

Open container laws are laws that restrict where people may drink alcohol in public.

What are Arizona’s open container laws regarding motor vehicles?

Here in Arizona, both drivers and passengers may be charged with having an open container inside a motor vehicle if an open container of alcohol is present within the passenger area of the vehicle.

Under Arizona Revised Statutes (A.R.S.) § 4-251, it is unlawful for any person to “consume spirituous liquor while operating or while within the passenger compartment of a motor vehicle” or to “possess an open container of spirituous liquor within the passenger compartment of a motor vehicle” that is located on or at the side of any public road.

What is a “motor vehicle”?

A motor vehicle is “any vehicle that is driven or drawn by mechanical power and designed primarily for use on public highways.” Cars, trucks, vans, motorcycles, and recreational vehicles are just some of the motor vehicles to which open container laws apply.

What is an “open container”?

An “open container” is an open container of alcohol. Examples of “open containers” include uncapped beer bottles, red solo cups, half-filled but closed bottles of vodka, tequila, rum, or any other spirit, and even improperly re-corked bottles of wine.

A.R.S. § 4-251 defines an open container as any bottle, can, jar, glass, or other receptacle “that contains spirituous liquor and that has been opened, has had its seal broken or the contents of which have been partially removed.”

Does it matter if the open container is empty?

It depends. The federal rule, at 23 U.S. Code § 154, defines an open container as either (1) any receptacle from which the alcoholic contents have been partially removed or (2) any receptacle that is open or has a broken seal and “contains any amount of alcoholic beverage.”

So unless the bottle, can, jar, glass, or other receptacle has been thoroughly washed and dried, it may still contain a trace of alcohol and therefore count as an open container.

Does it matter where inside the vehicle the open container is located?

Yes. If the open container is located within the passenger area of a vehicle, including an unlocked glove compartment, an empty back seat, or any other part of the vehicle that is readily accessible to the occupant(s) of the vehicle while they are seated, then the occupant(s) of the vehicle may be charged with having an open container.

However, if the open container is in the trunk of the vehicle or in a locked glove compartment or in “the area behind the last upright seat of a motor vehicle that is not equipped with a trunk,” then the occupant(s) of the vehicle may not be charged with having an open container.

Does it matter whether or not the driver or passenger is intoxicated?

No. The criminal offense is having an open container inside the passenger area of a vehicle. It makes no difference whatsoever whether or not the occupant(s) of the vehicle have consumed any alcohol from the container.

What are the consequences of a conviction for having an open container?

Here in Arizona, if the driver or passenger of a motor vehicle is convicted of having an open container of alcohol inside the passenger area of a motor vehicle, the result is a Class 2 misdemeanor.

A Class 2 misdemeanor is a criminal offense that carries a fine of up to $750 pursuant to A.R.S. § 13-802 as well as a possible jail sentence of up to four months pursuant to A.R.S. § 13-707. Two years probation is another possibility pursuant to A.R.S. § 13-902.

Do Arizona’s open container laws apply to passengers in every kind of vehicle?

No. Passengers in vehicles designed, maintained, or used primarily for the transportation of people for compensation – such as buses, taxis, and limousines – may not be charged with having an open container. Passengers within “the living quarters” of a motor home also may not be charged with having an open container.

However, this exception does not apply to drivers. The drivers of all such vehicles may be charged with having an open container.

Resources

23 U.S. Code § 154: https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/23/154

Arizona Revised Statutes (A.R.S.) § 4-244: https://www.azleg.gov/ars/4/00244.htm

National Conference of State Legislators – “Open Container and Open Consumption of Alcohol State Statutes”: http://www.ncsl.org/research/financial-services-and-commerce/open-container-and-consumption-statutes.aspx

This website has been prepared for general information purposes only. The information on this website is not legal advice. Legal advice is dependent upon the specific circumstances of each situation. Also, the law may vary from state-to-state or county-to-county, so that some information in this website may not be correct for your situation. Finally, the information contained on this website is not guaranteed to be up to date. Therefore, the information contained in this website cannot replace the advice of competent legal counsel licensed in your jurisdiction.

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