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Driving while drinking, or driving while drunk?
February 12, 2009 3:03 PM   Subscribe

Is drinking while driving illegal? I know it's illegal to drive *drunk*, but what if you're just consuming a modest quantity of alcohol while driving, and you maintain a BAC under the legal limit while doing so?

For the record, I'm *not* preparing a legal defense, nor would I actually *do* this; I'm just curious! I was watching an old episode of the Simpsons, S18E06 "Moe'Na Lisa", and Homer goes on a road trip with Moe, while Moe serves him mugs of beer. He gets stopped by the police, but only because he's actually *drunk*, so what if he weren't drunk, just drinking?
posted by fvox13 to Law & Government (25 answers total)
 
There are almost universal laws against "open containers" of alcoholic beverages in a moving vehicle.

Sorry
posted by Danf at 3:04 PM on February 12, 2009


In many (most?) states having open containers of alcohol in a vehicle is illegal.
posted by ericb at 3:04 PM on February 12, 2009


What Danf said!
posted by ericb at 3:05 PM on February 12, 2009


In New York State, we have an "open container" law. If you've got booze and it's not factory-sealed, you're in trouble if caught.
posted by Wild_Eep at 3:05 PM on February 12, 2009


In most places this is also illegal. In fact, I think it's illegal everywhere in the US now that I've learned it's illegal in Louisiana. You can check this Wikipedia page about Open Container Laws and pay special attention to the open containers in vehicles section. It may be outdated but it says this
"As of November, 2007, only one state (Mississippi) allows drivers to consume alcohol while driving (as long as the driver stays below the 0.08% blood alcohol content limit for drunk driving), and only eight states (Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia) allow passengers to consume alcohol while the vehicle is in motion. Still, local laws in these states may limit open containers in vehicles, although those local laws do not impact the state's compliance or noncompliance with TEA-21."
posted by jessamyn at 3:07 PM on February 12, 2009


Ontario, open container law. Even an open bottle of beer in the locked trunk of a car is technically illegal.
posted by GuyZero at 3:07 PM on February 12, 2009


Check out this recent question.
posted by niles at 3:07 PM on February 12, 2009


There are exceptions to open container laws, usually centered around allowing you to take home the remains of a bottle of wine, from a meal, theory being it's better to allow you to take it with you, than encourage you to finish it off.

There are also exceptions centered around "party-bus" and limousines, that vary by state.

Even Vegas doesn't allow an open container in the driver's compartment.
posted by nomisxid at 3:09 PM on February 12, 2009


Two things here:

First, it is legal to have alcohol in your blood under the legal limit. That's kind of the point of the limit.

But second, most states have what's called an "open container" law prohibiting the operation of a vehicle while there is an open container of alcohol in the vehicle. Doesn't matter if it's the driver or passenger: an open can of beer can get you arrested.

A breakdown of open container laws and their specifics can be found here. Note Louisiana's interesting provision, not in compliance with federal requirements, which permits frozen alcoholic beverages. Why? Drive-thru margarita stands.

I kid you not.
posted by valkyryn at 3:10 PM on February 12, 2009


God, I remember my dad drinking a beer WHILE driving when I was a kid and it used to make me so nervous even then because I figured it had to be illegal (not sure if it was then or not).

Anyway, the open container thing can be pretty strictly enforced. I've heard of people getting in trouble because the cop decided a previously-opened bottle of alcohol being transported in the backseat area of the car was an open container. I'm paranoid, so I store any alcohol I'm taking to a party or something in the trunk just to be safe. Of course, YMMV, etc. etc.
posted by fructose at 3:20 PM on February 12, 2009


That episode aired many many moons ago, in 1989. When I lived in Nevada, it was legal to have an open container. I remember seeing some construction workers outside an AM/PM mini market open up their beers while parked next to a cop and they drove ride off. Since that was illegal 10 miles away in Arizona I was sort of stunned to see it. Nevada eventually fell in line with the open container law

When I moved to Texas it was also legal to drive with a brew. There's an old yarn about the reason there are longneck beer bottles is to make it easier to hold your beer and keep your hand on the steering wheel. Then they made that illegal but passengers could drink. Then they made open containers illegal.
posted by birdherder at 3:22 PM on February 12, 2009


Oh fuck, I got the seasons mixed up. It just aired a while back. But the fact remains, back in the day it was ok to drink and drive. It was just illegal to be drunk and drive.
posted by birdherder at 3:23 PM on February 12, 2009


In MIssouri, it is legal for a passenger to have an open container. So you can only have one open, for the driver and passenger together, at a time. It makes for entertainment when out-of-staters come through.
posted by notsnot at 3:42 PM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


It used to be legal to have an open container, and even people drinking in a moving vehicle, except the driver, in Nevada, but that allowance is long gone now. I've been stopped a couple times (for speeding) in rural Nevada and threatened with an "open container" violation because there were empty beer bottles in the bed of the truck. Never got cited, but that's what the law says.

Strictly speaking, it's illegal to drive while drinking alcohol, period, pretty much everywhere.

'Course here in Nevada, you leave the paved road, you can do damn near anything you want.
posted by elendil71 at 3:42 PM on February 12, 2009


In Missouri, it is legal for a passenger to have an open container.

There are a few municipalities that ban this, but for the most part, yes, this is the case. [details]
posted by chrisamiller at 3:59 PM on February 12, 2009


In the U.S. Virgin Islands there are NO open container laws. It is perfectly legal to have a drink in the car while driving. All bars offer the option of a "go cup" if they even have real glassware, and it is very poor form for a bartender not to offer you a "roadie" when settling up your tab. One of my favorite things when I first moved here was toasting police with an open beer while driving (I wouldn't get in the car without one) and the police would often toast back with their own. On my first day living here I saw someone in line at the DMV with a beer and I was the only one who thought it the least bit remarkable.

However if you are anywhere other than the beach (including you vehicle) shirtless or in a bathing suit you will be stopped and issued a ticket. We call it the "tourist tax."

So who wants to come visit?
posted by Bango Skank at 4:31 PM on February 12, 2009


Legal in the UK -- there's no nationwide open container law, though some localities have public drinking bylaws. You can, however, be pulled over for 'driving without due care and attention'.
posted by holgate at 4:41 PM on February 12, 2009


What if the question is "if the legal limit is 0.08%, and I had one beer (not in the car) and I am at 0.04% and I get pulled over and it reads 0.04%, am I in trouble or no?" (no open containers)
posted by KateHasQuestions at 5:31 PM on February 12, 2009


What if the question is "if the legal limit is 0.08%, and I had one beer (not in the car) and I am at 0.04% and I get pulled over and it reads 0.04%, am I in trouble or no?" (no open containers)

If by "no open containers" you either mean no containers in the vehicle or that there is no law against having an open container, then no, why would you be in trouble? It's two issues - laws restricting BAC while driving, and laws regarding alcohol in vehicles.
posted by niles at 5:36 PM on February 12, 2009


If you are under the legal limit, and you aren't breaking any other laws, then you're fine. That's what the legal limit is — you can drink that much, then drive, and it's legal.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:37 PM on February 12, 2009


Some states, such as California, have (or used to have) classifications for recreational vehicles and "house cars" that allow open containers, provided they were not accessible to the driver. I know my step-father's van was classified this way ... a rule that he would abuse, of course.

And of course, limousines have different open-container rules.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:01 PM on February 12, 2009


In Virginia you can have open containers in the vehicle but the driver can not consume anything from them. The passengers are free to, though. This comes up in every assembly session and is always tossed out.
posted by SuzySmith at 7:14 PM on February 12, 2009


I've heard of people getting in trouble because the cop decided a previously-opened bottle of alcohol being transported in the backseat area of the car was an open container.

Growing up in North Dakota, I remember hearing apocryphal stories of someone getting in trouble for having a beer missing out of a six pack or a case because the cop considered "the container" to be whatever you'd buy in a store. So five cans of beer with the six pack ring attached was trouble, but five cans of beer rolling around loose was fine.
posted by nathan_teske at 10:31 PM on February 12, 2009


Also just remember there is driving while intoxicated and driving while under the influence.

Even if you are not at the limit if the cop things the alcohol is imapiring your judgement he can still arrest you.
posted by majortom1981 at 5:50 AM on February 13, 2009


It's legal in Germany.
posted by snownoid at 7:20 AM on February 13, 2009


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