Open Container Laws in Arizona

Introduction to Open Container Laws

Typically when someone thinks about an “open container” in a vehicle, or the open container laws in Arizona, they think about an open beer bottle or red solo cup with a mix drink – but the definition does not stop there. While an open container can include those things, an open container can also be a half filled bottle of vodka that is closed and on the passenger seat, or an expensive bottle of wine you are transporting home that was not properly recorked. It can also include you drinking on your porch and then walking over to your neighbors with your wine glass. If you are pulled over and the officer finds an open container, you could be subject to not only fines for an open container but also be subject to DUI field testing.

Purpose of Open Container Laws in Arizona

Open container laws have been enacted in order to restrict where people can drink on public places, which will depend heavily on what city and state you are located in. For example, patrons on the Las Vegas strip are permitted to drink anywhere on the strip.i This means anyone can grab a drink from a bar and walk around outside to watch the people pass by. The Las Vegas strip is, however, the exception. Generally speaking, you cannot have an open container in the following locations (without special permits):

  • On a public sidewalk;
  • Inside your own parked car;
  • On the front steps or in the common hallway of your apartment building;
  • On school property;
  • In a mobile home;
  • In a residential neighborhood; and
  • In a parking lot.ii

Open container laws were designed to protect communities by reducing injuries from drunk driving and disorderly conduct.iii Law makers were so keen on creating a standard for open container laws, that Congress passed the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) in 1998 to give states a financial incentive for restricting drinking in motor vehicles.iv Any state that fails to enact open container laws would lose a portion of federal highway construction funds.v This pressure that the federal government has applied to the state governments is the same way that the drinking age was raised to 21 from 18. If the states did not raise the drinking age, the federal government would withhold funding for the state’s freeways.

There are 43 states that have open container laws, and of those 43 there are 40 states that conform to the federal standards that were outline in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), which mandates open container laws and other traffic safety measures.vi

Many of the locations listed above correlate to the intent of avoiding disorderly conduct, rather than just preventing DUIs in the area. Open container laws that apply to inside a vehicle, especially a moving vehicle, can be much stricter and for a valid reason. Walking around drunk in your neighborhood is one thing, but driving to the store drunk to pick up a six pack is entirely different, and much more dangerous thing.

Elements of an Open Container Violation in a Vehicle

While every state may vary on the description of the element, or have additional elements, generally speaking the elements of an open container violation are fairly similar.

  • You drove a motor vehicle;
  • You drove on any public road (private roads or parking lots don’t count);
  • You kept a container, such as a bottle, can, or glass, on your person, which means you held it in your hand, kept it within your reach, or kept it in a pocket or purse;
  • The container held any amount of an alcoholic beverage when the officer found it, although simply the odor of an alcoholic beverage isn’t enough; and
  • The seal, if any, on the bottle was broken, or the container’s contents were “partially removed.”vii

If you are pulled over, and the officer is going to cite you for an open container violation, there is a slim to none chance you will not also be given a field sobriety test right then to determine if a DUI is also appropriate.viii More likely than not, you will only be charged with the more serious crime. So, if you fail the field sobriety test and receive a DUI, then you are unlikely to also receive an open container violation.ix However, if you pass the field sobriety test and still are in violation of the open container laws, you will most certainly receive a ticket for that.

Open Container Laws in Arizona

open container laws in arizonaArizona is one of the 43 states that does in fact have an open container law.x Just as Arizona is strict with DUI laws and enforcement, Arizona is very strict with open container laws.xi In Arizona, it is against the law for a person in a vehicle to have an open empty container that once contained an alcoholic beverage or an open container with an alcoholic beverage still in it.xii According to Arizona Revised Statute 4-251, a person that violates the open container law can be found guilty of a class 2 misdemeanor, which is punishable with a fine of up to $750 and up to four months in jail.xiii Other states simply have a fine that is less than $50 for such a violation.xiv

What about Passengers of a Vehicle

What about the passengers of a vehicle – are they permitted to drink? While it depends on the city and state, the general answer is typically no.xv A passenger, as well as the driver, could receive a citation for the passenger holding onto an open container in a moving vehicle.xvi

In Arizona, under Arizona Revised Statute 4-251, there is an interesting exception – given how strict Arizona is.xvii Under Arizona Revised Statute 4-251, if a person is a passenger of a bus, limousine or taxi and is in possession of an open container then it is still legal to be in possession of an open container of alcohol.xviii

Conclusion to Open Container Laws in Arizona

Open container laws in Arizona are much broader than anyone would ordinarily guess. It can include having a half gone bottle of vodka in the cup holder of your car to be transported home, or walking down the street with a mixed drink at a block party where there is no permit to suspend open container laws. The consequences, especially in Arizona where the laws are strictly enforced, could range from financial penalties all the way up to jail time.


i See Open Container Law FindLaw (Accessed April 17, 2017) http://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-charges/open-container-law.html

ii See Open Container Law FindLaw (Accessed April 17, 2017) http://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-charges/open-container-law.html

iii Id.

iv Id.

v Id.

vi See Can Passengers Drink in a Car Findlaw (Accessed April 17, 2017) http://dui.findlaw.com/dui-charges/can-a-passenger-drink-in-a-car-.html

vii See Open Container Violations NOLO Legal Encyclopedia (Accessed April 17, 2017) http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/free-books/beat-ticket-book/chapter7-10.html#

viii Id.

ix Id.

x See Arizona’s Open Container Laws DUI Blog (Accessed April 17, 2017) http://phoenixduiattorneyblog.com/2010/08/arizonas-open-container-law.html

xi Id.

xii Id.

xiii Id.

xiv Id.

xv See Can Passengers Drink in a Car Findlaw (Accessed April 17, 2017) http://dui.findlaw.com/dui-charges/can-a-passenger-drink-in-a-car-.html

xvi Id.

xvii See Arizona’s Open Container Laws DUI Blog (Accessed April 17, 2017) http://phoenixduiattorneyblog.com/2010/08/arizonas-open-container-law.html

xviii Id.