In New York and all other states, it is illegal to consume alcohol while operating a vehicle or to drive while intoxicated (DWI). To enforce this law and others, most states, New York included, also have open container laws that limit when and where it is legal for opened bottles of alcohol to exist in public spaces—cars included. Conversely, many vacation destinations in the U.S. are known for their lax open container laws that allow open bottles or even glasses/cups in streets and other public areas, and have become popular for that specific reason. But New York law states that opened containers of alcohol may not be present in the cabins of cars, even if the driver is not drinking from it or if the car is parked.
What is considered an open container?
An open container of alcohol is any bottle or other vessel that has been opened, drunk from, or had its seal broken. A half-consumed bottle of wine that has a cork in it is considered an open container; so is a bottle of hard liquor with the lid screwed on or a keg of beer that has been tapped but not emptied. Opened containers may be transported in cars’ trunks only, or in other cargo areas inaccessible from the cabin (such unconnected rooftop cargo carriers). On the other hand, unopened containers of alcoholic beverages which have unbroken seals may be present anywhere within a vehicle in New York.
Are there any exceptions to open container laws in New York?
In fact, there are two notable exceptions to open container laws as they pertain to cars and other vehicles in New York:
- Passenger vehicles – It is legal in New York to transport and consume alcohol in a specially-designated passenger vehicle, with certain requirements. The vehicle must have a ten or more passenger capacity (such as a bus, van, or boat), it must be designed for commercial use, and its owner must obtain a special permit or certificate from the New York or U.S. Department of Transportation.
- Wine from restaurants – Restaurants with liquor licenses may allow diners to take unfinished opened bottles with them when they leave, again, with certain requirements. First, the bottle must have been ordered and accompanied a meal that was consumed at the restaurant. Second, the restaurant must provide a sealed bag or other container, and it must be clear if the seal is broken. Third, the restaurant must provide a receipt for the bottle that includes the date. Finally, the wine bottle must be transported in the trunk or as far from the driver’s seat as possible if the vehicle has no trunk.
Are there penalties for violating open container laws?
A violation of New York open container laws is considered a traffic offense. The penalties are as follows:
- Fines – Up to $150 upon a first offense, up to $300 upon a second offense within 18 months, up to $450 upon a third or subsequent offense.
- Additional charges – $88 or $93 in surcharges per offense, plus a $20 crime victim assistance fee per offense.
- Jail time – While unlikely, a first offense could result in up to 15 days in jail upon a first offense, up to 45 days upon a second offense, and up to 90 days upon a third or subsequent offense.
Additional consequences may include an increase in auto insurance premiums, though that typically depends on the terms of the individual policy.
An experienced New York traffic crimes attorney can help you fight the penalties for an open container violation
If you are charged with an open container offense in New York, a knowledgeable DWI lawyer may be able to help you avoid penalties or conviction altogether. To learn more, call Sayegh and Sayegh Law (914) 222-8161 at or contact us online today.