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Understanding open container laws in North Carolina

Practically everyone knows that drunk driving is illegal in North Carolina and across the country. If you are not drunk, you may not think it is a big deal to drive your vehicle with an open alcoholic beverage in it. However, driving with an open container of alcohol is illegal in North Carolina.

According to North Carolina law, it is unlawful to have an open alcoholic drink in the passenger area of your vehicle, whether you are driving or parked. Here is a more in-depth understanding of the language of the law and the corresponding penalties.

Open container

There is a lot of confusion about what exactly constitutes an open container of an alcoholic beverage. The law treats any container with a broken seal as an open container. This means it is unlawful to have a bottle of beer in your car with the cap off, even if you do not consume any of it.

Passenger area

Many people do not understand what the law means about the "passenger area" of a vehicle. This term refers to any part of a car where anyone may be seated. An open container may not be within reach of anyone who may sit in the passenger area. If you must transport any open containers, you must keep it in an inaccessible area of your car, such as the trunk. The only exception to this rule is the living areas of a motor home and passenger areas of taxis or buses. 

Consequences and penalties

If the police catch you with an open container in your vehicle but you are not drunk or consuming alcohol, you will receive a ticket and a maximum fine of $100. If you have alcohol in your system, it is a misdemeanor charge. This means you may receive a fine, probation or jail time. You will receive points on your driving record that can result in a revocation or suspension of your license. 


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Super Lawyers Board Certified Specialist | North Carolina State Bar | Federal / State Criminal Law
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