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What Are The Laws for Alcohol in the Car in Ohio?

In Ohio, it is illegal to have an open container of alcohol in a vehicle, with two exceptions. The law states that “no person shall have in the person’s possession an opened container of beer or intoxicating liquor…while operating or being a passenger in or on a motor vehicle on any street, highway, or other public or private property open to the public for purposes of vehicular travel or parking.” It also states that no person shall have an open container of alcohol “while being in or on a stationary motor vehicle on any street, highway, or other public or private property open to the public for purposes of vehicular travel or parking.”

Because of guidance from federal law, most states have similar open container laws that, like Ohio, usually ban open containers of alcohol anywhere in the entire passenger area of a motor vehicle. However, a few states allow passengers to consume from alcohol containers while riding in a car (Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Missouri, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Virginia), or allow open containers in a vehicle as long as no one is actually drinking while in the car (Arkansas and West Virginia).

What Are The Exceptions to Ohio Open Container Laws?

Ohio is not one of the states that has more lax open container laws. Its law is very expansive. It bans open containers for both drivers and passengers and applies even if the vehicle is not actually being driven and is stationary. The law does have two specific exceptions:

  • Chauffeured limousine: a passenger of a chauffeured limo can lawfully drink beer or liquor and possess an open container if: (1) the passenger and/or a guest of the passenger has paid a fee pursuant to a prearranged contract, and (2) the passenger doesn’t occupy a seat in the front compartment of the limo where the driver is located.
  • Opened wine: an opened bottle of wine purchased from an establishment permitted to sell wine is not an open container if: (1) the bottle of wine is securely resealed before it is removed from the premises where it was sold, and (2) the bottle of wine is stored in the trunk of the vehicle, or if the vehicle doesn’t have a trunk, behind the last upright seats.

The open container law is closely related to DUI/OVI laws and people are often in situations where they may be charged with both. If you are driving while drinking an alcoholic beverage, you are violating the open container law, but you may also be violating the OVI law if your blood alcohol content is over the legal limit. If you are pulled over for a traffic violation and the officer suspects you have been drinking, an open container of alcohol in your car is likely considered evidence that will give the officer cause to continue his investigation into possible drunk driving, or even search your vehicle. This is true even if the container is empty at the time of the traffic stop.

Penalties:

  • A person who violates the law by possessing an open container of beer or liquor commits a minor misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $150
  • A person who violates the law by actually consuming alcohol in a vehicle commits a fourth-degree misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $250, and up to 30 days in jail
  • If the person who violates the open container law is under 21 years old, they may be charged with underage possession or consumption, a first-degree misdemeanor, and face harsher punishments.

While these penalties are fairly mild, remember that having a conviction for an open container violation on your record can affect your future educational and employment opportunities.

The best way to protect yourself from being charged with an open container violation in your vehicle (or someone else’s vehicle!) is to simply not have any previously opened alcohol containers in the car. However, if you must transport alcohol from one place to another, make sure it is resealed and stored in the trunk or behind the last row of seats, out of reach of the driver or any passenger in the car.

If you have been charged with open container, call today to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss your case, and assist you in fighting the charge.