Kentucky takes the crime of driving under the influence seriously. Drinking and driving can have serious — and deadly — effects. In 2018 alone, 12% of all traffic fatalities in Kentucky were attributed to driving under the influence.
One way that Kentucky combats driving under the influence is through strict open container laws. In Kentucky, it is against the law to have an open container of alcohol in a place where either a driver or a passenger could access it. If you are caught violating this law, you could be charged with possession of an open container in a vehicle.
As a Lexington DUI defense lawyer can explain, while an open container violation may be relatively minor, it is still a criminal offense. Understanding the law and its exceptions can help you avoid violating it.
When Is It Illegal to Have an Open Container of Alcohol in Kentucky?
In Kentucky, it is against the law to possess an open container of an alcoholic beverage in the passenger area of a motor vehicle, if that vehicle is on a public highway or a right-of-way. Under the law, possession of an open container is a violation offense, punishable by a fine of between $35 and $100.
Kentucky’s open container law applies to both drivers and passengers, and is relatively straightforward. Essentially, if you have an open bottle of beer, wine, or spirits in the passenger compartment of your vehicle — even if nobody is drinking that alcohol — you could be charged with this offense.
So what exactly is an open container? Under the law, an open container is defined as any can, bottle or other receptacle containing any amount of alcoholic beverage, if that container is (1) open; (2) has a broken seal or (3) has had the contents partially removed. In other words, unless the container with alcohol is full and sealed, it should not be in the passenger compartment of your vehicle.
Under Kentucky law, the passenger compartment includes any part of the vehicle that is readily accessible to the driver or passengers. The entire seating area of the vehicle is considered the passenger compartment, along with the glove compartment. A person may be found to have an open container at a DUI checkpoint or during a routine traffic stop.
Of course, this law only applies to vehicles that are driven on public highways or right of ways of public highways (which includes the width between and adjacent to the boundary lines of every “way” that is publicly maintained and open for public use for vehicular travel). If you are not traveling on a public highway or right-of-way, a skilled Lexington DUI defense lawyer may be able to have the charge against you dismissed because it does not meet the elements of the offense.
Exceptions to the Open Container Law
Importantly, there are exceptions to the general prohibition against open containers in vehicles. If your situation falls into one of these exceptions, then you should not be charged with a violation of the law.
First, an open alcoholic beverage container can be kept in an area that is not readily accessible to the driver and passengers. This may include the trunk, a locked compartment, behind the last upright seat, or in any area that is not usually occupied by the driver or passengers.
Second, there is an exception for certain types of vehicles, such as vehicles for hire (taxis, limos and buses) and recreational vehicles and motor homes. Kentucky law on open containers does not apply to passengers of these types of vehicles. For example, if you rented a limousine or a party bus for a night out on the town, you would not be putting yourself at risk of an open container violation if you drank alcohol in the limousine or bus during the evening.
Third, there is an exception for wine taken home from restaurants. If a customer purchases a bottle of wine at a restaurant and it is only partially consumed, the restaurant can follow a special procedure so that the customer can take the wine home in their vehicle. To do so, the restaurant must securely reseal the bottle, and the place the bottle in a container that shows if it has been opened.
Finally, the restaurant must provide the customer with a dated receipt for the wine. The customer must then transport the wine in the trunk or in an otherwise inaccessible area of their vehicle.
Drinking in Public and Public Intoxication
In addition to Kentucky’s open container laws that address the possession of alcohol in vehicles, Kentucky’s public intoxication laws make it illegal to drink alcohol in public places or to appear in public while intoxicated by alcohol. Because a public place is defined as an area where the public or a substantial number of people have access to, this could include a highway or parking lots — making it illegal to for passengers to drink in vehicles.
Under this law, it is against the law to appear in a public place under the influence of alcohol to such a degree that you may endanger himself or other persons or property, or unreasonably annoy people in your vicinity. It is also illegal to drink an alcoholic beverage in a public place, or in or upon any passenger coach, or other vehicle commonly used for the transportation of passengers, or in or about any depot, platform, or waiting room.
A violation of this law is punishable by a minimum fine of $25 for a first or second offense. A third or greater offense is punishable by a fine of between $25 to $100 and/or between 5 and 90 days in jail. In addition, you may be required to complete alcohol treatment.
Importantly, a person cannot be charged with both an open container and a drinking in public or public intoxication offense if they arise out of the same event. Consult with your lawyer if you believe that you have been charged twice for the same incident.
Work with a Lexington DUI Defense Lawyer
Open container laws exist to protect all of us, but they may have a harsh impact if you are unaware of these restrictions on the transportation of alcohol. Depending on the facts of the case, there may be both potential factual and legal defenses to these charges.
At the Baldani Law Group, we are devoted to helping our clients achieve the best possible outcome. We are dedicated to providing a strong defense for a range of Kentucky criminal charges. Contact us today by phone at 859-259-0727 or online to schedule a consultation with a Lexington DUI defense lawyer.