Under New York’s open container laws, any person who consumes or possesses an open container of alcohol in the passenger compartment of a motor vehicle is committing a crime. This is true regardless of where the open container is located, whether held in a hand, sitting in a cup holder, or stored in an unlocked glove compartment. In essence, unless an open container of alcohol is stored away in the trunk of a vehicle when a traffic stop happens, the driver and all the vehicle occupants are exposed to alcohol-related charges.
New York open container laws
When states enact the laws that govern their citizens, they often incorporate federal laws which provide instructions and guidance. Such is the case with New York’s open container laws which are based upon The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, or TEA-21. Enacted in 1998, TEA-21 provides certain incentives to those states that adopt its recommendations, and imposes penalties upon those states that do not. States that adopt the TEA-21 recommendations receive grants of unencumbered roadway funding, while states that do not incorporate the TEA-21 recommendations into their open container laws have a percentage of their roadway funding diverted to alcohol-related safety programs for drivers. Thirty-nine states, including New York, have adopted the TEA-21 recommendations.
Open container laws govern the possession and consumption of alcohol in public places, which includes the passenger compartment of motor vehicles. These laws apply whether the vehicle is moving or standing still on public roadways when the law enforcement contact giving rise to charges occurs.
Occupants of motor vehicles who are found to have consumed, been in possession of, or stored in unlocked glove compartment an opened container of alcohol will likely face criminal charges. If charged and then convicted, the penalties imposed can range from being ordered to participate in alcohol abuse treatment programs to harsh fines and extended jail sentences, depending on the severity of the offense and the accused’s drunk driving and criminal history.
What do if charged with having alcohol in a motor vehicle
The best way not to run afoul of laws governing the transport of alcohol in motor vehicles is to ensure that no one in the passenger compartment is in possession of or consuming alcohol. If you must transport open containers of alcohol in a motor vehicle, the best practice is to place any open containers in the trunk of cars, or an area away from the passenger compartment for vehicles without trunks.
When a person has the misfortune of facing charges related to consuming or possessing alcohol in a motor vehicle, immediate steps should be taken to dispose of the charges as soon as possible and to protect their driving privileges. With the assistance of a criminal law attorney, a thorough investigation into the charges could be launched to ensure that the records upon which the charges are based is accurate, and that all evidence in the case was obtained and maintained in accordance with lawful procedures. Negotiations with the prosecutor might also be undertaken for a plea bargain to resolve the charges as soon as possible so that the negative-impact of the charges upon the accused’s life is lessened.