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What are the open container laws in New Jersey?

March 21, 2024 Uncategorized

 

What are the open container laws in New Jersey?

If you’re like most folks, you probably enjoy throwing back a few cold ones with friends every now and then. But did you know that in New Jersey, it’s actually illegal to have an open container of alcohol in your car? Yep, them’s the rules here in the Garden State. In this article, we’ll break down everything you need to know about New Jersey’s open container law so you can avoid getting slapped with a fine on your next road trip.

What exactly is New Jersey’s open container law?

New Jersey’s open container law, also known as N.J.S.A. 39:4-51b, makes it illegal for both drivers and passengers to possess or consume an open container of alcohol while in a motor vehicle on any public road, street or highway in the state. An “open container” basically means any bottle, can, or other receptacle that contains any amount of alcohol and has been opened or unsealed.

So if you crack open a beer, take a swig from a flask, or pour some wine into a cup while you’re driving or riding in a car, you could be violating the law. Even having a closed container of booze that has a broken seal is considered an open container. The law also applies whether the vehicle is in motion or stopped, like at a red light or stop sign.

What are the penalties for violating the open container law?

Getting busted with an open container in your car will hit you right in the wallet. For your first offense, you’ll face a fine of $200 plus court fees and surcharges. A second offense bumps the fine up to $250 or 10 days of community service. Three or more violations means a fine up to $500 and up to 90 days in jail.

The fines get even steeper if you’re under 21. For an underage first offense, the fine is $500. A second offense is $1,000 and loss of license for 6 months. Three or more violations can result in a $1,000 fine, loss of license for 2 years, and up to 30 days in jail.

Does the open container law apply to passengers too?

Yup! The open container law applies to all occupants in a vehicle, not just the driver. So your buddy cracking open a cold one in the passenger seat can get you both in trouble if you get pulled over. The fines are the same whether you’re behind the wheel or just along for the ride.

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Are there any exceptions to the open container law?

There are a few limited exceptions where you can legally have an open container in your vehicle in New Jersey:

  • If it’s stored in a place completely out of reach of the driver and passengers, like the trunk. But keep in mind that accessing the trunk counts as being “within reach.”
  • In licensed limos and party buses, as long as there’s a physical barrier between the driver and the alcohol.
  • If you’re driving an emergency vehicle while on duty in an emergency situation.

Other than those specific circumstances, it’s illegal across the board for drivers and passengers to possess open containers in a motor vehicle on public roads.

Can you drink alcohol while driving in New Jersey?

Absolutely not! It’s just as illegal as an open container. Consuming any amount of alcohol while operating a motor vehicle will get you slapped with a DWI (driving while intoxicated) or DUI (driving under the influence), even if you’re below the legal limit of 0.08% BAC.

A first-time DWI offense brings fines between $250-$400 plus surcharges, up to 30 days license suspension, and 12-48 hours at an Intoxicated Driver Resource Center. Penalties get harsher for repeat offenses. Bottom line – don’t drink and drive!

How is the open container law different from a DUI or DWI?

While often confused, an open container violation is not the same as a DUI or DWI. Those charges require proof that you were actually impaired and over the legal alcohol limit while operating a vehicle. An open container ticket simply means there was alcohol present in the vehicle – no proof of actual consumption is necessary.

An open container violation is a traffic offense, not a criminal charge. It goes on your driving record but not your criminal record. DUIs and DWIs are criminal charges that show up on both records and come with much stiffer penalties like big fines, jail time, and license suspension.

Can cops search your car if they see alcohol?

Sort of. Police officers need probable cause to thoroughly search your vehicle without a warrant. But spotting open containers or unsealed alcohol from outside the car gives them cause to expand the scope of a traffic stop.

They can ask you to step out and do field sobriety tests if they suspect you’ve been drinking. They may also search any open containers or other alcohol to test if it’s an illegal substance like moonshine.

So while seeing some White Claws on the floor doesn’t give them carte blanche to toss your ride, it can legally allow them to take steps to investigate further if they suspect additional violations.

What should you do if pulled over with an open container?

First and foremost, be polite and cooperate fully with the officer’s instructions. Admit that you’re aware open containers are illegal in New Jersey and apologize sincerely. Don’t try to make excuses or place blame.

If asked to step out for a sobriety test, respectfully say you do not consent to any further searches. But do not physically resist anything the officer legally requests you to do.

If you’re issued a ticket, accept it without argument. You can always fight it later in court if you choose. Arguing with the cop will not get you anywhere except maybe the back of their squad car!

Should you fight an open container ticket?

It may be worth fighting an open container violation under certain circumstances. For example, if the alcohol was clearly out of reach of the driver and passengers. Or the officer didn’t have proper probable cause for the search that revealed it.

An experienced DUI/DWI lawyer can look at the details of your case and advise if they think you have grounds to beat the charge. If it’s your first offense, they may also be able to plea bargain it down to a lesser violation.

How can you avoid open container violations?

The easiest way to avoid fines and penalties is to simply refrain from possessing open containers in your vehicle altogether. Only transport unopened, sealed containers of alcohol. And never, ever drink while driving – get a designated driver or call a rideshare.

If you want to responsibly enjoy some road sodas, take advantage of New Jersey’s new “social district” laws that allow open containers in certain designated outdoor party zones. Just be sure to tightly reseal or finish anything before getting back in your car!

And always keep alcohol stored securely in your trunk while driving so it’s provably out of reach. An open container violation might seem minor, but it can hit your wallet hard if you don’t take precautions.

Now that you know the deal with New Jersey’s open container law, you can crack open that cold one without worry – as long as you do it outside the car! Chug responsibly and never drink and drive. Your bank account and driving record will thank you.

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