Open Container Driving Laws in Georgia
In response to the increasing alcohol roadway fatalities, the federal government created legislation requiring all states to develop and enforce open container laws. States that did not comply with the request could have a portion of their highway funding restricted. Georgia enacted legislation involving open container laws shortly thereafter. While many GA residents are aware of the drinking and driving laws, most are unaware of the rules pertaining to open containers of alcohol. Open container rules state that no one operating a vehicle may drink and drive, nor may the vehicle’s operator have an open container anywhere in the vehicle, even if it is out of reach. Fines can be levied for each successive violation. There are exceptions and allowances provided with this rule, however. The following information pertains to the Georgia open container driving laws, the exceptions and the consequences of breaking the open container law.
What is the legal definition of an “open container” in Georgia?
Georgia considers an open container to be any container that holds an alcoholic beverage that has been opened. Consumption – and possession – of any containers of alcohol that have been opened is illegal. Open containers are those receptacles whose seals have been broken. An open container would also apply to a bottle of liquor stored in a lockbox on a truck, or kept in the glove compartment. However, there are exceptions to this rule. A passenger may consume alcohol while in a vehicle that is used commercially (such as rideshare or a taxi), and a driver may transport a bottle of wine that has been purchased at a restaurant, then resealed, and is being taken home. Make sure the restaurant has resealed the bottle, however, or it will be considered an open container.
Penalties You Could Face in Georgia for Open Container Driving
In general, highway patrol or police officers will not pull someone over specifically for open containers, unless they see that it is in the car. In most cases, an open container citation is added on to other infractions once the officer pulls the driver over. So, for example, if the police pulled over a vehicle for running a red light, then observed the open container in the car, then the fine for running the red light would be increased by the additional fine for the open container. The penalties for having an open container can vary from one GA district to another. For example, in Atlanta, a resident could receive both a citation and a fine, with possible points on the license. Underage drivers have stiffer penalties that could include jail time. As with DUI (driving under the influence) laws, there is a three-strike rule. Each successive infraction increases the fines and the penalties involved.
First offenses carry with them a possibility of jail time, a minimum fine of $300, a suspended license for at least 12 months, community service (a minimum of 40 hours), and then the driver will have to pay a $210 reinstatement fee.
Second offenses do not give the driver an option of staying out of jail. Those caught with an open container a second time will spend a minimum of two days in jail, with the possibility of staying three months. The minimum fine is $600, the license is suspended for three years and the driver must work a month doing community service. In addition, the driver will be required to be evaluated and, if indicated, take a substance abuse program (at the driver’s expense). The $210 driver’s license reinstatement fee is also an additional fine.
Third offenses carry a minimum of 15 days in jail, but could be longer. The minimum fine is $1,000, and can be as much as $5,000. The license is revoked for five years, and the violator’s name and contact information are published in the local newspaper. The license plate may be seized by the DOT, and a mandatory substance abuse program will be required.
In combination with other charges, the open container law can pose a significant increase in an offender’s fines, points on the license and loss of time behind the wheel. It is clear that the state of GA is very serious about those residents who would choose to drink and operate their vehicles on GA roads.
What to Do When Charged With Open Container Violations in Georgia
The seriousness of the charge is largely dependent on the circumstances. If a driver is pulled over and the open container is a wine bottle from a restaurant that has not be properly sealed, then the fine will most likely be low, or waived. However, if a driver is pulled over for a DUI and the open container is in the car, then the fines and the serious nature of the crime increases significantly. The open container could be used as evidence against the driver in order to obtain a DUI conviction. The open container charge, by itself, is not significant enough for most drivers to warrant getting a lawyer involved. However, in many instances, it will go on the driver’s record, which could raise insurance rates.