Drinking in a Car Is Sometimes Legal

Open Container Laws in Vehicles

The Laws of the various United States can be a strange thing. Every state has strict laws about open containers inside and outside of cars. You can rest assured that if you get caught in most states with an open beer in your car, whether you are above the legal drinking limit of 0.08 BAC or not, you will have some explaining to do and probably to a judge. However, passengers chartered vehicles like limousines or charter buses and other specially licensed buses may be exempt from this law.

New York Open Container Laws in Vehicles

In New York, the ability to have open containers in a vehicle is governed by statute. Section 1227 of the New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law states:

Consumption or possession of alcoholic beverages in certain motor vehicles.

  1. The drinking of alcoholic beverages or the possession of an open container containing an alcoholic beverage, in a motor vehicle located on the public highways or right-of-way public highway is prohibited. Any operator or passenger violating this section shall be guilty of a traffic infraction. The provisions of this section shall not be deemed to prohibit the drinking of alcoholic beverages or the possession of an open container containing an alcoholic beverage by passengers in passenger vehicles operated pursuant to a certificate or permit issued by the department of transportation or the United States department of transportation.

Furthermore, the provisions of this section shall not be deemed to prohibit the possession of wine which is: (a) resealed in accordance with the provisions of subdivision four of section eighty-one of the alcoholic beverage control law; and (b) is transported in the vehicle’s trunk or is transported behind the last upright seat or in an area not normally occupied by the driver or passenger in a motor vehicle that is not equipped with a trunk.

  1. For the purposes of this section, a passenger vehicle shall mean a vehicle designed to carry ten or more passengers and used to carry passengers for profit or hire.

As you can see there are exceptions carved out for passenger vehicles and wine in certain situations. If your planning on using a party bus or limousine check with the agency to confirm that the consumption of alcohol is permitted.

Recent Open Container Cases

Party buses are large buses that can be rented out to transport a group of people. These buses usually play loud music, have flashing disco lights inside, and are stocked with ample amounts of alcohol. It is completely legal to drink on these buses, and many party bus companies encourage drinking by having kegs and coolers of beer on board. Most people think of this as a safe alternative to drinking and driving.

A party bus in San Diego, California, recently made the news after a drunk Uber driver struck it from the rear. Luckily there was nobody on the bus except the bus driver, who was not injured during the whole ordeal. The Uber driver, on the other hand, was arrested for drunk driving and taken to jail.

In Vancouver, Canada party buses have recently come under fire after a passenger fell out of the bus and died. Residents are calling for an end to party buses, as they promote nothing but drunken behavior while contributing nothing of value to the city. This begs the question: How are party buses legal? In passenger vehicles like cars and trucks, the driver is always an arm’s length away from an alcohol source. This means that there is no way to ensure that a motorist does not have access to alcohol while driving. However, in many party buses and limousines, there is a partition that separates the driver from the passengers. This separation helps prevent the driver from reaching back and grabbing a beer for himself as he drives.

The party bus industry in the United States also runs the risk of being shut down by the federal government, but for different reasons. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration is worried about the safety of passengers traveling in buses. Because most commercial buses do not come equipped with seatbelts, a major collision could spell trouble for passengers inside the bus. The federal government wants to fix this by requiring new buses to be manufactured with seatbelts. This could greatly affect the party bus industry, which would then be looking at spending an extra $10,000 to $15,000 to cover the cost of seatbelts in new buses.

Open Container Defense in New York

Despite the regulations and the recent negative publicity, many people look at the party bus industry as a good thing. Not only does it help boost local businesses, but it does an excellent job of taking drunk drivers off the road. Groups of friends will all throw in money to rent a party bus for an evening, where they can be driven to various bars and nightclubs around town or a wine tour. By using a party bus service, they are allowed to drink and socialize without worrying about how they are going to get home. After all, any plan that provides for a sober designated driver is a good plan.