Thomas Carroll Blauvelt

Understanding New Jersey’s “open container” law

When New Jersey residents head out to the beach, for an outdoor concert or a picnic over the summer, it’s common to bring along some beer, wine or other alcohol. However, it’s important to keep it outside the reach of anyone in the vehicle and sealed.

It can be too tempting if you’re stuck in traffic or even if you get thirsty during your trip to break open a bottle or can and start imbibing if you can reach the alcohol. Certainly, if the driver does that, they could end up facing a DUI. 

However, New Jersey, like other states, has an open container law. So you could be facing charges even if no one takes a drink. Let’s look at the law.

What does the law say?

Under New Jersey law, anyone in a vehicle “shall be prohibited from possessing any open or unsealed alcoholic beverage container….[unless] such container is located in the trunk of a motor vehicle, behind the last upright seat in a trunkless vehicle, or in the living quarters of a motor home or house trailer.”

You might not consider the fines significant enough to worry about. However, you could end up doing 10 days of community service for a second or subsequent incident.

Why alcohol to-go can be a problem

The New Jersey legislature is considering making the “alcohol to-go” law that was enacted a couple of years ago permanent. Many states, including ours, allowed people to order alcoholic beverages with their meals that they took to-go or had delivered when many restaurants had to curtail indoor dining.

The same restrictions around alcohol in vehicles apply to these drinks. That means a driver can’t just sit even a sealed container of alcohol next to them on the front seat as they drive home with their meal. Even if a driver doesn’t drink enough to be over the legal limit, an open container can potentially lead to a DUI charge. If you or a loved one is facing charges, it’s wise to seek legal guidance.

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