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What You Need to Know About Transporting an Open Container of Alcohol 

Watkins Law Firm LLC Jan. 17, 2023

Empty Bottles of Wine in A Bootleggers TruckDriving down the road, you may notice someone in another vehicle, whether driver or passenger, pick up what looks like a liquor bottle or beer can. Possessing, let alone consuming, an open container of an alcoholic beverage while in a motor vehicle is illegal in Colorado.  

If you’re the driver of a vehicle with an open alcohol container and your blood alcohol content (BAC) exceeds the legal limit of 0.08 percent, you may also be subject to driving under the influence (DUI) citation and end up having your driving privileges suspended, to say nothing of possible fines and jail time. However, just possessing an open container, whether alcohol or marijuana, can also lead to a citation and fine, even if you’re in a parked car.  

If you’ve been cited for an open container violation, or worse, a DUI, in or around Boulder, Colorado, contact me, Criminal and DUI Defense Attorney Jennifer Watkins, at my office, the Watkins Law Firm LLC. 

I have more than 20 years of experience in defending clients who face driving-related and other charges, and I will fight aggressively to protect your rights. I proudly represent clients not only in Boulder but also in Longmont, Louisville, Lafayette, and Broomfield, Colorado. Reach out immediately for a free consultation. 

Open Container Law in Colorado 

Two major elements of Colorado’s open container law concern the definition of a motor vehicle and the definition of an open container, and as a result, the definitions of the driver, passenger, and exempt vehicles.  

Colorado Revised Statutes Section 42-4-1305 defines a motor vehicle as “a vehicle driven or drawn by mechanical power and manufactured primarily for use on public highways but does not include a vehicle operated exclusively on a rail or rails.” The vehicle must be “in operation,” which means it can even be parked so long as the driver has the ability to operate it.   

The same section defines an “open alcoholic beverage container” as “a bottle, can, or other receptacles that contain any amount of alcoholic beverage” that is “open or has a broken seal” or “the contents of which are partially removed.” The ban against open containers applies equally to drivers and passengers in a motor vehicle, so long as the container is readily accessible to both driver and passengers, even if in the glove compartment or other storage feature, perhaps hidden under the seats.  

The section goes on to exclude passengers that are not in the front driver’s area in a “house coach, house trailer, motor home…or trailer coach.” The driver is not excluded. Also excluded are persons traveling in a motor vehicle “designed, maintained and used primarily for the transportation of persons for compensation,” in other words, a limousine. Taxis may have rules against alcohol possession or consumption, making the law apply in those instances.  

Marijuana, which is legal for recreational purposes in Colorado, is also precluded by the open container provision, but unlike alcohol, for which consumption need not be shown, there must be proof that the marijuana has been smoked, inhaled, eaten, or otherwise consumed in the vehicle. 

Penalties Under the Open Container Law 

A driver or passenger cited for an open container violation, whether alcohol or marijuana, is subject to a Class A traffic citation, which carries a $50 fine, plus a surcharge of $16 for alcohol and $7.80 for marijuana. However, police will normally suspect the driver of being under the influence and subject that person to a field sobriety or a breathalyzer test. A DUI arrest can follow, in which case the potential penalties increase greatly. 

Understand and Protect Your Rights 

If you’re going to carry alcohol or marijuana in your vehicle in Colorado, make sure it is in a sealed container that clearly indicates the contents have not been opened or accessed. An open container in the driver or passenger area is an invitation for law enforcement to seek out additional violations and charges, which you definitely want to avoid.  

If you’re facing an alcohol- or marijuana-based violation while driving in or around Boulder, Colorado, reach out to me immediately to discuss your legal options, especially if you’re facing a DUI or other serious charge. I will help you challenge the probable cause for your arrest and seek to protect your rights, and obtain the best result possible. Contact me at the Watkins Law Firm LLC for an initial free consultation.