Exceptions to Florida’s Open Container Laws
Florida has fairly strict open container laws in place that impose a fine on both drivers and passenger in violation of the law. Keep reading today’s blog to learn more about the specific activities that constitute an open container violation in Florida, as well as the few exceptions to the law.
What Is Considered an Open Container?
Florida’s open container law makes it illegal to consume an alcoholic beverage or possess an open container of alcohol if you are:
- driving a vehicle;
- a passenger in a vehicle that’s being driven; or
- sitting in a vehicle that’s parked or stopped within a road.
Note that an open container is defined as any alcoholic beverage in a container which has a broken seal or is immediately capable of being consumed from, and a road is defined in the context of this law as including any area open to travel by the public, such as streets, highways, alleys, and sidewalks. The definition also includes other areas necessary for the maintenance of travel such as ditches, bridges, and tunnels.
A passenger is considered to have possession of an open container if it is in their physical control, and a driver is deemed to have possession of an open container if it’s not located in a locked non-passenger area, such as a locked trunk or glove compartment. This means that even if the open container is not in the driver’s immediate physical control, they can still be guilty of possessing an open container while driving.
The most common situation when an open container violation may be discovered is at a routine traffic stops or DUI checkpoint. If a police officer spots an open container in your vehicle during a routine traffic stop, they are allowed to confiscate the evidence and file charges for an open container violation. For example, if a police officer pulls you over for a broken taillight and then discovers an open container in the process, the officer can legally confiscate the open container and charge you for violating an open container law, as long as the initial stop was legal.
Exceptions to the Open Container Laws
Generally, Florida’s open container law applies to both drivers and passengers. However, there are a few exceptions. The law does not apply to passengers if:
- the driver holds a valid commercial driver’s license and is operating a vehicle pursuant to a contract to provide transportation for passengers (e.g. a taxi);
- the driver holds a valid commercial driver’s license and is operating a bus; or
- the passenger is in a self-contained motor home, over 21 feet in length.
Note that Uber and Lyft drivers do not possess a commercial driving license, so a passenger would be in violation of the open container laws if they are drinking in one of these services.
Another exception to the open container law allows for the transportation of a partially consumed bottle of wine in certain circumstances. For instance, a restaurant licensed to sell wine may allow a customer who has purchased a full course meal to take a partially consumed bottle of wine home. However, the wine must be resealed (re-corked) and placed in a locked glove compartment or locked trunk for transportation. If the vehicle doesn’t have a trunk, the wine must be placed behind the last upright seat.
Penalties for Violations
A driver who violates Florida’s open container law commits a noncriminal moving traffic violation that carries a $60 fine, as well as court fees and assessments that vary by county. If the driver chooses to have a hearing and is found guilty of the infraction, the fine can increase to a maximum of $500. Be aware that in addition to fines and fees, an open container violation will add three points to a convicted motorist’s driving record.
A passenger who violates the open container law is also guilty of a nonmoving traffic violation punishable by a $30 fine plus court fees and assessments. The maximum fine similarly rises to $500 if the passenger is found guilty after a hearing.
Fight Your Open Container Charge
Open container charges can be difficult to defend against, as they often involve obvious violations. In any case, an experienced attorney can argue:
- the beverage was actually in a place where it is legal to store open containers in a car;
- the beverage was not truly classifiable as an alcoholic beverage;
- the car was not in operation on a public highway or an area subject to regulation.
Do be aware that counties and cities have their own specific restrictions on the possession of alcohol in vehicles, though. If you are facing an open container violation, or any alcohol-related charge, contact me at The Law Offices of Phillip T. Ridolfo, Jr. for experienced legal representation.
Schedule your free consultation with me today by contacting The Law Offices of Phillip T. Ridolfo, Jr.