New York Open Container Laws
Though the laws of the federal government of the United States have no direct bearing on open container laws, which are set down at the state or local level, that doesn’t mean that they have no influence over the laws enacted. By complying with the provision against open containers in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (or TEA-21), the federal government grants roadway funds to the states. As a result, 39 states have completely signed on to the Act and implemented open container laws, including the state of New York.
What Are New York’s Open Container Laws?
Under the laws of the state of New York, it is against the law to possess or consume an open bottle of alcohol in a public area. This means that you can’t just go walking around and swigging from a bottle unless you are in a private space such as your home or a business establishment with a license to serve alcohol. It’s the reason why someone carrying around a brown bag has become code for drinking, because in theory if the police can’t see the alcohol, they can’t prove it. Visual confirmation of an actual bottle, however, is obviously only one of many ways that an officer of the law can tell that you are drinking, so it’s never good to test the law in this way.
New York open container laws also prohibit both drivers and passengers from either consuming or simply possessing an open bottle of alcohol in the passenger compartment or cab of a vehicle – including an unlocked glove compartment. This is true regardless of whether anyone is actually driving the car, so it is not within your rights to park and have a drink in your vehicle. The only way that you can transport an open container of alcohol in your vehicle without getting in trouble with the law is by putting it into your trunk.
What Penalties Are Associated with New York’s Open Container Laws?
While it is true that if you are caught with alcohol in your vehicle and charged for violating New York’s open container laws it is only a traffic infraction with an attached fine, there are numerous instances of cases where the charges have been raised and penalties increased – some people have even been given jail time!
But more important than the specific penalties laid down by law for simply violating New York’s open container laws is what such a charge can lead to. If a law enforcement officer discovers an open container of alcohol in your vehicle – whether or not you were actually drinking from it – it is quite likely that they will suspect you are intoxicated and could attempt to administer a BAC test and charge you for driving while intoxicated. Arguing with them that you haven’t been drinking or becoming belligerent will only add more evidence to your “intoxication.”
A version of this is even true if you have an open container in your possession when you are not in a vehicle. If a police officer notices it, they can cite you for it and attempt to ascertain whether or not you have been drinking and they should charge you with public intoxication. In the same way that many lawmakers consider alcohol and marijuana to be a gateway drug, an open container violation is a “gateway offense.”
How Can You Avoid Violating New York’s Open Container Laws?
The simplest and easiest way: don’t transport any open alcoholic containers. If you’re heading to a friend’s house for a party, stop at the store and buy a new bottle. Or if you really feel like you need to bring an open container from home, make sure that you store it in your trunk so that there is no question about whether or not you might have been drinking from it. If you are taking public transportation or walking, keep the open container inside of a closed bag, purse, or backpack at all times.
And if an officer does stop you and cite you for an open container violation and the encounter seems like it may lead to further problems for you, don’t hesitate to ask to speak to an experienced New York open container lawyer before you do anything to incriminate yourself any more in front of the police.
By Eric Sachs