Examining Virginia’s Open Container Laws

man driving with open alcoholic beverage in car

Updated for 2020.

Virginia’s open container laws are a little different than most states. While open containers of alcohol are not technically prohibited, there still are consequences if you are found to have an open container in your vehicle while you are driving.

Our DUI attorney explains Virginia's open container law and the implications for violating the law.

What Is an Open Container?

According to Virginia law, an “open container” is defined as “any vessel containing an alcoholic beverage, except the originally sealed manufacturer’s container."

Virginia laws restricts open containers in a vehicle while driving. Consuming an alcoholic beverage while operating a motor vehicle on a public highway is also illegal in Virginia.

Virginia's open container laws do not apply to passengers in the car; however, having an open alcoholic beverage in the "passenger area" can result in open container charges, or in charges of drinking while driving or driving under the influence (DUI) if you fail a blood alcohol content (BAC) test.

Where Should You Transport Open Alcohol in a Car?

Any open container of alcohol should be transported in the trunk or behind the last upright seat, beyond the driver's reach.

In Virginia, you cannot carry open containers of alcohol in "the passenger area." The passenger area in a vehicle is the area where the driver sits, as well as any area within reach of the driver. This includes an unlocked glove compartment and the areas where other passengers can sit.

Items that are in the trunk of a vehicle, or the area behind the last upright seat in a vehicle if there is no trunk, are not considered to be within the “passenger area.”

Rebuttable Presumption

The law allows for a “rebuttable presumption,” meaning that the driver is presumed to be in violation of the law in the following situations:

  • There is an open container in the passenger area of the motor vehicle
  • The alcoholic beverage in the open container is at least partially gone
  • The appearance, conduct, odor of alcohol, speech, or another physical characteristic of the driver of the vehicle is reasonably associated with them consuming alcohol

Penalties of an Open Container Violation in VA

In Virginia, if a driver is found to be in violation of consuming an alcoholic beverage while operating a motor vehicle, they will be guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor. The maximum fine for being convicted of a Class 4 misdemeanor is no more than $250.

Do you have more questions about an open container citation or any other alcohol-related offense? Contact the Law Offices of Daniel J. Miller today at (757) 267-4949.

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