New Jersey’s Open Container Law

Opening of beer cap

A lot of people know that you are not allowed to drive a vehicle with an open container of alcohol inside. Open container laws actually exist in some form or other in almost every state due to a requirement of the federal Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century, including New Jersey – a total of 43 states have open container laws in place, 40 of which conform to the federal standards outlined in the Act. However, while most New Jersey drivers know about these laws, many do not know exactly how the laws work, what the penalties are, and if there are any exceptions to the rule.

Open Containers of Alcoholic Beverages in a Motor Vehicle

New Jersey statute, N.J.S.A. 39:4-51b, makes it illegal for any occupant of a motor vehicle to have an open or unsealed alcoholic beverage inside of the motor vehicle that is on a public roadway. The law applies even if the person is not drinking the alcohol (meaning consumption is not required for the behavior to be illegal). Moreover, the law applies even if the person with the drink is not the driver – no one in a motor vehicle may have an open alcoholic drink in New Jersey.

Penalties for Violating the Open Container Law

If you are caught with an open container of beverage in a motor vehicle on a public road in New Jersey, you can be charged with a fine for $200 dollars plus $33 in court costs and a $6 surcharge for a first offense. For a second offense, you can be charged $250 or 10 days of community service, plus $33 in court costs and a $6 surcharge. There are no Division of Motor Vehicle points or surcharges associated with this violation.

Exemptions from the Open Container Law

There are some exemptions listed under N.J.S.A. 39:4-51b. The most important one allows you to carry an open container of alcohol if you place the bottle in the trunk of your vehicle. If you are in a vehicle without a closed off trunk space, such as an SUV or hatchback car, then you can place the container behind the last upright seat – essentially where a trunk would be in the vehicle. There is also an exemption that exists for RVs, motor homes, and house trailer type vehicles – an open alcoholic beverage can be placed or held in the living quarters area of such a vehicle. Similarly, an exemption exists for certain special vehicles, such as limousines or special charter buses with specific license that would allow a person in the passenger area of such a vehicle to be excluded from the open container law requirements.

Finally, the law requires a passenger to knowingly have the open container in order for him or her to be penalized under the statute. This means that you are not guilty simply because you are a passenger in a vehicle with an open container of alcohol – it has to actually or constructively be yours. For instance, if you are in a vehicle with several other people, and one of the passengers has an open container of alcohol, you cannot be found guilty of violating the law if you did not know about the alcohol. At the same time, even if the bottle is not yours, you may be charged with breaking the law if you take possession of the bottle, such as by drinking it.

New Jersey Drunk Driving Attorney Edward M. Janzekovich Can Explain Your Rights and Defend You in Court

If you or someone you know is charged for any crime relating to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, including an open container law, it is extremely important to contact an experienced DUI/DWI attorney who can explain what consequences you are facing in your specific situation. If you go to court, an experienced lawyer can also argue on your behalf and help get you the best result possible. Having an experienced drunk driving lawyer can make all the difference. To speak with an experienced New Jersey DWI/DUI lawyer about your situation, call us at 732-257-1137 or contact us online today. We serve clients throughout the state of New Jersey.