Understanding Georgia Open Container Laws

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Author: Philip Kim, Founder, Philip Kim Law, P.C.

Defense lawyer Philip Kim has committed his career to standing up for the accused, and protecting the rights and reputations of his valued clients. If you face criminal charges in Georgia, we can provide you with the skilled, effective defense representation you need.

Published on January 9, 2020, last updated on December 08, 2023.


Navigating the Legal Landscape of Georgia’s Open Container Laws

Georgia’s open container laws significantly impact the way individuals can enjoy public spaces, social events, and recreational activities throughout Georgia. Listed in OCGA § 40-6-253, the law is a part of the state’s liquor laws.

This statute prohibits anyone from having an open alcoholic beverage container while driving. In light of the DUI statistics (driving under the influence), this law aims to lower the risk of accidents and damaging effects of DUI in Georgia.

In this comprehensive article, we demystify Georgia’s open container laws. We explore the implications, your rights, and the potential legal consequences of violating Georgia’s open container laws.

If you have been charged with an open container violation in Georgia, you may need the help of criminal lawyers in Lawrenceville. Philip Kim Law, P.C., can help you. We are a law firm with years of experience defending individuals facing charges related to alcohol and drug offenses in Georgia.

What Are Open Container Laws?

Georgia’s open container laws have specific guidelines that dictate where and when possessing or consuming alcoholic beverages in a motor vehicle is prohibited. Understanding these laws is crucial for legal compliance.

Enshrined in OCGA § 40-6-253, the open container law of Georgia prohibits individuals from consuming or possessing any alcoholic beverage or open alcoholic beverage within the passenger area of a motor vehicle situated on a roadway or the shoulder of a public highway.

What Constitutes an “Open Container” in Georgia?

Under the law, an “open alcoholic beverage container” refers to any bottle, can, or receptacle holding any amount of an alcoholic beverage that has been opened, has a broken seal, or has had its contents partially consumed.

According to Georgia Law, an “alcoholic beverage” encompasses a range of drinks, including beer, ale, and other fermented beverages containing at least 0.5% alcohol by volume. It also includes wines with a minimum of 0.5% alcohol by volume and any form of distilled spirits.

Who’s Responsible Under Georgia’s Open Container Laws?

Georgia’s open container law extends to both drivers and passengers. In cases where the driver is alone in the vehicle, they can be charged for violating the open container law if any containers with alcohol are found open within the passenger area.

This means that even if the driver is the only person, having open alcohol containers in the vehicle’s passenger seat, it can still lead to legal charges.

The “passenger area” refers to the section of the vehicle accessible by the driver and passengers while moving. It encompasses spaces easily reachable by those seated in the vehicle. However, areas like a locked glove compartment, the vehicle trunk, or the area behind the last upright seat (if the vehicle lacks a trunk) are not considered part of the passenger area.

How to Determine if You’re Subject to Georgia’s Open Container Laws

You might be subject to Georgia’s open container laws if you are in a motor vehicle on a public highway or its shoulder with an open container of alcohol in the passenger area. You may be guilty of violating Georgia’s open container laws in situations including:

  1. Possessing an open container of alcoholic beverage in the passenger area while the motor vehicle is in motion on a public highway.
  2. Keeping open alcohol containers where they are readily accessible by the driver or passengers while the vehicle is operating on public roads.
  3. Sitting in a vehicle on the roadway or its shoulder with accessible open alcohol containers.
  4. For individuals under the legal drinking age, drinking or possessing alcoholic beverages in a vehicle’s passenger area, even if they are not driving. Additionally, they may even face a minor in possession charge.
  5. Mishandling partially consumed bottles of wine purchased at restaurants that need to be securely resealed and stored correctly for transport.

Exemptions and Specific Regulations

In Georgia, open container laws come with specific exemptions. Understanding these exemptions is crucial for compliance with Georgia’s regulations on open containers. Let’s explore some of these intricacies below:

Passenger Area Exemptions

Georgia’s open container laws exempt passengers in specific situations. These include passengers in vehicles primarily meant for transportation for compensation (such as limousines or party buses) and living quarters of motor vehicles or house trailers.

Exception for Resealed Bottles of Wine

Under the Georgia open container law (OCGA § 3‑6‑4), there’s an exception for unfinished bottles of wine bought at restaurants. The licensee or its employees can reseal these before being removed from the premises. For transportation in a car, the bottle of wine must be put in a sealed container along with a dated receipt for the wine and meal. It should be stored in a locked glove compartment, locked trunk, or the back of the last seat in a motor vehicle designed without trunks.

Jurisdiction: Federal, State, or Local?

Georgia’s open container laws are primarily governed at the state level. However, their origin lie in federal regulations established by the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21).

In 1998, the federal government introduced the Act to encourage states to implement laws that prevent the possession and consumption of alcoholic beverages in motor vehicle passenger areas—this initiative, detailed in 23 USC 154, aimed to enhance safety on highways.

States must comply with these federal requirements to avoid losing some of their federal-aid highway construction funds. Such funds are then redirected to Section 402 of the State and Community Highway Safety Grant Program.

Each state interprets and enforces these laws differently, resulting in nuanced differences from federal standards and variations compared to other states’ regulations.

What Are the Legal Implications?

Open container violations are charged as infractions. Initially, Georgia’s open container law primarily imposed maximum fines of $200. However, in recent years, Georgia’s Department of Driver Services has been required to add two points to the driving records of those convicted under this law. This additional point assignment can particularly impact drivers under 21 who are already carrying demerit points on their licenses.

It’s important to note that the penalties for Georgia’s open container law don’t involve jail time or probation. Additionally, there is no option for a jury trial specifically for an open container violation if it’s the only criminal charge related to driving with an open container. It’s crucial to distinguish these penalties as vehicular offenses, separate from pedestrian open container laws like those applicable in the district of downtown Savannah.

The Benefits of Hiring a Law Firm to Navigate This Law

Misunderstanding or disregarding Georgia’s open container laws can have severe legal and personal consequences. For instance, having an open container charge can increase the severity of punishment for a DUI violation of probation in Georgia. Additionally, it can be used as evidence to support a DUI conviction in Georgia. As a result, seeking legal advice may be crucial to avoid these risks.

Philip Kim Law, P.C. can provide legal representation and guidance for those facing charges related to open container law violations. Their experience in criminal defense, particularly in matters related to these laws, ensures informed and strategic approaches to legal proceedings.

Contact Philip Kim Law, P.C. Today! 

The intricacies of open container laws necessitate professional legal advice. This is where we come in at Philip Kim Law. We defend our clients in cases related to open container laws and ensure that our clients have comprehensive legal support. Our firm’s client-centric approach prioritizes open and honest communication, aiming for the best possible outcomes for our clients.

If you are confronting allegations related to open container law violations, you may seek consultation and representation from Philip Kim Law, P.C. Our experience in criminal defense and commitment to clients make us a reliable ally in navigating these legal complexities. Call us now for more information and a free consultation.

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368 West Pike Street, Suite 203
Lawrenceville, GA 30046
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