Open Container Laws in Georgia

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Georgia has stringent laws against open containers in vehicles that are in operation. When people are convicted for breaking this law, it could have significant financial ramifications, and it could even jeopardize their right to drive in the future. If you have received a citation for violating open container laws, contact a Carrollton DUI attorney at Moffitt Law, LLC, to learn about your legal options.

Georgia Open Container Law

Open container laws are found in Georgia’s Code § 40 – 6 – 253. The law states the following:

“A person shall not consume any alcoholic beverage or possess any open alcoholic beverage container in the passenger area of any motor vehicle which is on the roadway or shoulder of any public highway.”

Like any law, the details can often be found in the definitions of the statute.

The first key term in the law is “alcoholic beverages.” The law is written very broadly to encompass perhaps every alcoholic drink. The law specifically addresses the following:

  • Beer, ale, porter, stout, and other similar fermented beverages
  • Wine
  • Distilled spirits or spirits of wine in any form

Before you think that there are many, if any, loopholes, the law is written to include even drinks with a trace amount of alcohol (.5% alcohol by volume) for both wine and beer. Thus, any open container that contains practically any amount of alcohol could be grounds for charges.

Then, the law also sets forth the definition of an open container. It defines “open” as “open or has a broken seal; or the contents of which are partially removed.”

Finally, the term “passenger area” is also extremely broad. The open container laws do not just apply to the driver of the vehicle. Passengers may also not have an open container within their reach when the vehicle is in operation. If there is a cooler or bottle that everyone has access to, both the driver and the passengers could be jointly liable for violating the open container rules.

If the driver is alone in the car, they can be responsible if there is an open container in the passenger area of the car. However, the driver may not be responsible for the open container is in an area outside of their reach when they are driving. For example, if the container was under the seat on the other side of the car, they may not have ready access to it.

Exceptions to Open Container Laws in Georgia

There is one explicit exception that is found in Georgia’s open container laws. If the driver was consuming a bottle of wine at a restaurant, they may be able to take the rest of the container home in the car, provided that it is sealed by the restaurant staff before you leave and it is placed in a bag that makes tampering with it evident.

There is also an exception for the passenger area of a vehicle that transports passengers for compensation. For example, while an Uber driver would certainly not be able to have an open container near them when they are driving, the passengers would not be prohibited from having an open container while the vehicle is in operation.

Finally, there may be open containers in a motorhome when it is in operation (but the driver would not be allowed to have an open container within their ready reach).

Defenses to Alleged Open Container Violations

You may be able to contest open container violation fines using the following defenses:

  • The container itself was not open when you were stopped
  • The container was not in the passenger area or any place that was accessible to you when you were driving the car
  • The substance in the bottle was not alcoholic, or police did not sufficiently demonstrate that the container had alcohol in it
  • Police otherwise violated your rights when they stopped you or searched your car

For example, if the police had to expend effort to find an open container, it could mean that you may not have had ready access to it when you were driving.

Penalties for Violating Open Container Laws

Georgia law states that anyone who is found to have violated the provisions of the open container law could face a fine of up to $200. There have been instances in which courts have tried to impose greater punishments, but they have been overturned on appeal.

In addition to the fine, violators could also receive two points on your driver’s license for an open container violation (even if it was a passenger who had an open container in your car when you were driving). If 15 or more points are accumulated in a two-year period, your license may be suspended.

The major reason why you have an incentive to fight an open container citation is that your car insurance rates could skyrocket dramatically if you are convicted of the offense. One study shows that your premiums could increase by as much as 44% for an open container violation. Auto insurance companies view open container tickets almost as seriously as they do DUI offenses. They believe that if there is open alcohol in your car when it is in operation, it could be a predictor of a future drunk driving accident.

Why Hire a Lawyer to Fight Georgia’s Open Container Violations?

Being able to successfully fight an open container charge depends on gathering evidence to show that you were not breaking the law. Even though law enforcement has the burden of proof, you would need to prove your own defenses to be acquitted at trial. Your attorney could investigate both the traffic stop and the circumstances and advise you where there is a chance that you could fight the charges.

Contact Us to Learn More About the Georgia Open Container Law

If you have been stopped and charged with a violation of the Georgia open container laws, Moffitt Law, LLC can help. You can call us at 762-200-2924 or send us a message online to speak with an attorney about your case.

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