"Open Container" Laws Usually an Infraction in California

September 16, 2011

Found in Vehicle Code Sections 23221 to 23229, California open container laws make it illegal to have an opened alcoholic beverage in the passenger compartment of a motor vehicle. More specifically, the laws prohibit:

  • drinking in a car,

  • possession of an open container in a car,

  • storing open containers in a car, and

  • storing open containers in a trunk.

Generally, these violations only constitute infractions. That means they are equivalent to traffic tickets, and a conviction does not give someone a criminal record.

A notable exception, however, pertains to California’s law against a minor in possession of alcohol. Vehicle Code 23224 makes it a misdemeanor crime for a minor under 21 to drive or ride in a car with alcohol. Furthermore, Business & Professions Code 25662 makes it a crime for a minor to be in possession of alcohol in any public place.

It goes without saying, also, that if a driver is actually consuming alcohol when he gets stopped by the police, he will also be investigated for possible DUI. A DUI is a misdemeanor crime that carries serious repercussions in terms of driving record, criminal record, social stigma and car insurance costs.

The upshot for California motorists is simple: Never have an open container of alcohol in your car. If you do transport alcohol, keep it sealed and in the trunk. And keep it away from minors.