Most U.S. states have laws that prohibit the possession and consumption of open containers of alcoholic beverages while inside motor vehicles. These laws not only prohibit drivers from having an open container of alcohol but also passengers who may be riding next to the driver or who sit in a part of the vehicle where they can easily hand over their drinks to the driver.
North Carolina also has a law banning the possession of open containers. However, the state’s version of the law is notable for having provisions about the type of container used.
Manufacturer’s original and unopened container required
Per state rules, no person shall drive or be a passenger in a motor vehicle on a North Carolina highway while there’s an alcoholic beverage in the passenger area that’s not inside the unopened manufacturer’s original container.
The logic behind the requirement for an alcoholic beverage to remain sealed in its original container is that if a driver or passenger uses their container, they can quickly seal it and claim they never opened it, skirting the state’s open container law.
North Carolina also notably considers the glove compartment of any motor vehicle to be within the general passenger area of a motor vehicle because it’s designed to be within reach of a seated driver or passenger.
Penalties for violating the open container law
A violation of the law is a Class 3 misdemeanor for the first offense. A conviction leads to up to 20 days in jail and $200 in fines.
For a second or subsequent offense, it becomes a Class 2 misdemeanor. This offense carries up to 60 days in jail and $1,000 in fines.
Suppose a driver is convicted of violating the open container law and another impaired driving offense (such as driving while intoxicated) at the same time. In that case, the maximum penalties will be based on the upper limits for the DWI offense.
North Carolina’s open container law is one of the strictest in the country. Any alcoholic drinks transported in a motor vehicle must be sealed in their original bottles or cans, or else the driver or passengers face charges. If you face charges for violating the open container law, a legal professional may be able to help build your defense case – especially if you’re also dealing with a DWI charge.