North Carolina’s open container laws care about the type of container

Griffin Law, PLLC
Jan 05, 2024

It’s not just a crime in North Carolina to drive while intoxicated (DWI); it’s also an offense to have an open container of alcohol in a vehicle. Other U.S. states have similar laws, but there’s something different in North Carolina’s.

The state is very particular about the type of container used.

Only original unopened containers allowed

Per state law, it’s illegal for the driver to consume alcohol while driving. It’s also illegal for anyone to drive a motor vehicle on a North Carolina highway while there’s an alcoholic beverage in the passenger area of the vehicle in a container other than the unopened manufacturer’s original container.

This means that even if a driver is carrying an unopened flask of an alcoholic beverage that they never touched while behind the wheel, an officer can still cite them for violating the law if the flask wasn’t the original container of the drink.

Persons who think they can circumvent the law by transferring their alcoholic beverages into another container to hide the fact that it’s liquor could also get into trouble.

The penalties

If the person charged with violating the open container law also faces charges for impaired driving, the former offense is a Class 3 misdemeanor. On conviction, a person faces up to 20 days of jail time and $200 in fines. For a second offense, it becomes a Class 2 misdemeanor that’s punishable by up to 60 days of jail and $1,000 in fines.

These penalties can’t make the court impose an imprisonment sentence that exceeds the maximum limit applicable to the driver’s DWI conviction. However, it still effectively enhances any DWI conviction.

So, yes, North Carolina not only bans open containers of alcohol but also unopened liquor that’s in the wrong container. If you face charges for violating the open container law and DWI, consider consulting a legal professional who can protect your rights in court.

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