Can You Have an Open Container in a Vehicle?
Although it is common knowledge that a person cannot legally drive while under the influence of alcohol, it may be lesser known that a person cannot legally drive if there are open containers of alcohol in areas accessible to the driver or passengers. If you are pulled over with an open container of alcohol in your vehicle, regardless of whether or not anyone in the vehicle has been drinking, you may be charged with an open alcoholic beverage container. Law enforcement will also frequently try to determine whether you are impaired by alcohol, potentially even subjecting you to conduct a field sobriety test. Although this is a lesser known law, the restrictions for open container infractions are very straightforward.
Open Container Law Restrictions
This law restricts a person in a vehicle from possessing an alcoholic beverage if the drink:
- Has a broken seal or is fully open, or
- The contents of the drink have been partially or fully removed
According to Nebraska Revised Statute 60-6,211.08, an alcoholic beverage is defined in the state of Nebraska as any beer, ale porter, stout, malt beverage, wine, sake, distilled spirits, mixed drinks or any readily consumable beverage of at least 0.5% alcohol. An alcoholic beverage does not include trace amounts of alcohol that cannot be consumed as a beverage. So, any non-alcoholic drinks such as mixers or non-alcoholic beers may be allowed by law enforcement.
This law is applicable to not only the driver of the vehicle, but to the passengers as well. Vehicles that are driving on any public highways or in parking lots are subject to this state law.
Where the law does not apply
While the open container law does apply in most situations, there are exceptions to it. For example, there are certain vehicles that are exempt according to Nebraska legislation. Certain limousines and buses where there are partitions, or separators, between the driver and the passengers are exempt from the open container laws if the passengers are consuming the drinks inside the separated area of the vehicle. Special party buses do not necessarily even need a partition if the alcohol is sufficiently far from the driver’s reach.
Another exception is if the alcohol is not in the passenger area of the vehicle, such as in the trunk of a vehicle. In fact, Nebraska law allows for open containers to be in the hatchback area of a car without a trunk, where the containers are placed behind the last upright sight in an area that passengers do not normally occupy. In these cases, the containers are not considered to be in the passenger area of the vehicle and the statute does not apply.
Additionally, if you are on private property then the law is not applicable. So, if you are on your own property or on the property of someone you know, then you are not under the jurisdiction of the restrictions; however, as soon as you drive onto public roads or property you run the risk of being charged under the Nebraska state open container law.
Violating the open container laws in Nebraska is classified as an infraction. The penalties for an infraction increase with each conviction. If it is your first conviction, then you could be fined up to $100. A second conviction within two years of your last one will cause you to be fined between $100 and $500. For a third or subsequent conviction within two years of your previous conviction, you will be fined between $200 and $500.
Being charged under the open container law can be an unnecessary financial burden with legal fees and fines, especially if a subsequent DUI charge arises.
Dedicated DUI Attorneys
Although the infractions for an open container charge are typically small fines, a police officer spotting an open container in your vehicle may lead them to conducting a field sobriety test and consequently charging you with a DUI. You do have rights on the roadways, and the experienced DUI lawyers at Berry Law understand what law enforcement can and cannot do during a traffic stop, including what evidence to challenge in a DUI. If you have been charged with a DUI in relation to an open container infraction, contact Berry Law today 402-817-6469 to schedule a confidential consultation.