1.2 Open Container
Open-container laws prohibit possession of any open alcoholic beverage container and the consumption of alcoholic beverages by motor vehicle drivers or passengers. These laws typically exempt passengers in buses, taxis, and the living quarters of mobile homes.
In 1998 Congress required States to enact open-container laws or have a portion of their Federal-aid highway construction funds redirected to alcohol-impaired driving or hazard elimination (NHTSA, 2008b). To comply, State open-container laws must:
- Prohibit possession of alcoholic beverage containers and consumption of alcohol in motor vehicles;
- Cover the entire passenger area;
- Apply to all types of alcoholic beverages;
- Apply to all vehicle occupants;
- Apply to all vehicles on public highways; and
- Provide for primary enforcement of the law.
Certain exceptions are permitted. For additional information, see www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/09/30/2016-23788/regulatory-update-of-transfer-and-sanction-programs.
Use: As of July 2019 there were 39 States and the District of Columbia with open-container laws that complied with the Federal requirements (FHWA, 2020).
Effectiveness: A study of 4 States that enacted laws in 1999 found the proportion of alcohol-involved fatal crashes appeared to decline in 3 of the 4 States during the first 6 months after the laws were implemented, but the declines were not statistically significant (Stuster et al., 2002). In general, the proportion of alcohol-involved fatal crashes was higher in States with no open-container laws than in States with laws. Open container laws are associated with fewer alcohol-related fatalities (Ying et al., 2013; Whetten-Goldstein et al., 2000). Survey data in both law and no-law States show strong public support for open-container laws (NHTSA, 2008b).
Active enforcement of open container laws is important for open container laws to be effective. In one study self-reported impaired driving was 17.5% lower in States that actively enforced open container laws compared with States that did not (Lenk et al., 2016).
Costs: Open container laws require funds to train LEOs and to implement enforcement.
Time to implement: Open-container laws can be implemented as soon as appropriate legislation is enacted.