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What’s in Your Cup Holder? A Quick Primer on the Arkansas Open Container Law

We all know it’s dangerous – and illegal – to drink and drive, but did you know it’s illegal in Arkansas to drive with an open alcohol container in your vehicle? If caught, you’ll face Class C Misdemeanor charges, up to 30 days in jail, and up to a $500 fine.

In 2017, the Arkansas legislature passed a law making it illegal for a person to possess an open alcoholic beverage container in a motor vehicle. Surprised? This law appears to have flown under the radar of average Arkansans, as it was not widely publicized or reported in the news. I’ve even spoken with Arkansas lawyers who weren’t aware of the new law. Because the public is widely uninformed, we’ve recently seen an influx of these types of cases at the Law Office of Jason M. Hatfield, P.A. Here’s what you need to know in order to keep from being prosecuted in a criminal court: if the seal of an alcoholic beverage has been broken, it must be permanently re-sealed or transported in the trunk or locked console or glovebox.

Seems simple, right? What about transporting partially consumed alcohol containers? People routinely travel from parties and sporting events with alcoholic beverages in tow. If you do not finish the bottle of wine you started or the liquor you brought to share, you may toss it in the back seat or passenger seat and head home. This simple act can land you in jail for up to 30 days with a $500 fine. The law is not contingent on you being drunk. Even if you’re the sober designated driver transporting people and unsealed alcohol containers, you can be charged.

It’s become common for restaurants in Arkansas to send the remainder of a bottle of wine home with customers. This is no longer safe unless it is put into a container that has a seal. Simply corking your bottle of wine doesn’t count as a permanent seal. The exact language of the law requires the container of alcohol to be in a permanently sealed container that cannot be unsealed without breaking the seal or destroying the container.

So, how do you permanently seal a container after the packaging seal was broken? If you’re inventive and carry wax, you can presumably reseal containers with wax. If that’s too complicated, you can place a container of alcohol with a broken seal inside a paper or plastic bag and staple the bag completely shut.

Seem like too much trouble? The easiest way to comply with the law is to lock partially consumed alcohol containers in the trunk. I know what you’re thinking: I drive an SUV or truck and there’s not a trunk on my vehicle. The law anticipates that scenario too. The law specifically permits transporting the container in the cargo area in the back of the vehicle behind the last row of seats. No matter what type of vehicle you drive, in addition to the trunk, you may also place the container in the locked glove box. If your center console locks, the container can also be locked inside the console.

Planning an outing in a limousine or traveling in an RV? The legislature carved out some exceptions for you. In limousines, it’s legal to have open containers in the area of the vehicle that is designated for passengers only. If you drive an RV, then opened alcoholic beverages should be kept in the living area of the RV and away from any areas that are arguably accessible to the RV driver.

Remember, this law does not apply to unopened alcoholic beverages. You can still transport new, unopened cans or bottles of alcohol in the passenger seat of your car or even in your cup holder.

Contact our Springdale Criminal Defense Attorneys

If you were charged for having an open alcoholic container in your vehicle or if you have questions and need an experienced criminal defense attorney, please call the Law Office of Jason M. Hatfield, P.A. at 479-361-3575. Contact us online!

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