Can you drink alcohol in a car in California while someone else drives? What the law says

“Drive sober or get pulled over,” the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says. And we all know it’s illegal to drink alcohol while you’re driving, or to drive after you’ve been drinking.

But what if you’re not the one driving? Can you drink alcohol as a passenger in a traveling vehicle?

We reached out to the Sacramento Police Department to help answer this question, who sent us information about California’s open container laws.

Here’s what the law says you can and can’t do regarding traveling with open containers, and what can happen if you do:

Can passengers drink in vehicles in California?

A California vehicle code says a person cannot have an unsealed or open container of alcohol while driving a motor vehicle, Sacramento police said. This means the open container cannot be in the cabin of the vehicle at all, whether it belongs to the driver or any of the passengers.

It is also illegal to have an empty container of alcohol in a vehicle, according to Los Angeles-based law group Eisner Gorin LLP.

Exceptions to the law

Drivers and passengers can store open containers of alcohol in a vehicle’s trunk or locked compartment, but not the glove box or other reachable areas, according to previous reporting from The Sacramento Bee.

Passengers of limos, taxi’s and other for-hire vehicles can carry open containers and drink alcohol in said vehicles, according to attorneys.

Penalties for breaking open container laws

Fines associated with carrying open containers in a vehicle illegally can add up to $363 with fees, including court fees and state and county fees, according to police. You can also get points on your driving record.

For drivers or passengers under 21, penalties for having alcohol in a vehicle is a misdemeanor, according to attorneys. The fine can be up to $1,000 without fees, and there is also mandatory community service and a driver’s license suspension for up to a year.

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