Most states in the United States have open container laws, and New York state's are some of the most stringent. In New York, open containers of alcohol are prohibited in public places and in vehicles on public roadways. Depending on the circumstances, an open container charge can result in fines, jail time or both. It can also result in a driving while intoxicated (DWI) charge.
Defining New York's Open Container Law
Under New York Vehicle & Traffic Law Section 1227, drinking from, or possessing, an open container of alcohol is illegal when driving or riding in a vehicle on public roadways. The only way to legally transport an open container is in the locked trunk of the car. If the vehicle lacks a trunk, the alcohol must be transported behind an upright seat that is farthest away from the driver. New York's open container law is enforced even if a car is parked.
The law does not prohibit drinking or possession of an open container by passengers in commercial vehicles, such as buses or limousines. However, owners must have a certificate or permit issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Passenger vehicles designed to carry 10 or more people are also exempt from this law.
Transporting Open Bottles of Wine in New York
New York's open container law also has an exemption for the transporting of wine, as long as it has been resealed or corked in accordance with Alcoholic Beverage Control Law Section 81, Subdivision 4. Restaurants that have a liquor license to sell wine allow patrons to remove an unsealed bottle to drink off-premises if that patron has purchased the bottle and consumed some of its contents with a full-course meal. A full-course meal is defined by the state as food that must be eaten with the aid of tableware and that is not suited for eating while standing or walking.
Before the bottle is removed from the premises, it must be corked by the restaurant owner or employee and placed in a sealed bag to lessen the chances of it being tampered with on the drive. The restaurant must also give the patron a dated receipt for the purchase of the wine. When transporting the bottle, it should be placed in the motor vehicle's trunk or behind an upright seat located farthest away from the driver.
Penalties for Violating Open Container Laws
According to Rosenblum Law, an open container conviction can lead to a $150 maximum fine for the first offense. If there is a second open container conviction in less than 18 months from the first, the penalty can be up to $300. A third offense carries a fine of up to $450. In addition to these fines, every traffic violation in New York has a mandatory surcharge of $88 or $93, and anyone convicted of violating the law must pay a crime victim assistance fee of $20.
In addition to ticketing and penalties, an open container charge can impact a driver's insurance rates by 5 to 20 percent. New York does not place points on a driver's record for breaking the law.
Open Container and Drunk Driving Laws
The presence of an open container in a vehicle on its own won't necessarily lead to a DWI charge. However, when transporting opened, unsealed or empty containers of alcohol, they will cause suspicion by law enforcement if they are not stored in accordance with the law.
If there is a suspicion of intoxication, a police officer can, at minimum, question a driver about their sobriety or perform a full DWI investigation involving a field sobriety check and a chemical test. If the driver receives a DWI charge, an open container charge can be used as evidence of intoxication in court. Open container and DWI charges are also possible while a car is parked. A driver with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent or greater is considered intoxicated.
Boating and Open Container Laws
According to New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, boat operators and passengers are allowed to drink while on watercraft. However, no one may operate a vessel while impaired. An operator facing a boating while under the influence (BWI) charge also faces fines, jail time and suspended boat operation privileges.
An open container on a boat won't necessarily lead to a BWI charge, but it can cause suspicion in law enforcement, who may, at minimum, ask questions regarding a boat operator's sobriety. At maximum, an officer may perform a full DWI investigation, which can involve a sobriety check, a chemical test or both. A boat operator is considered intoxicated with a BAC of 0.08 percent or more.
Open Container and Public Drinking Laws
While drinking in public is illegal in New York State, each county and city handles the penalties and exemptions differently. For example, in March 2016, Manhattan decriminalized public drinking and in doing so decriminalized the possession of an open container of alcohol. This is now considered a low-level infraction and it will no longer lead to arrest. However, someone drinking in public spaces may be ticketed, according to Thrillist.
This is not the case in every New York city or county – some are far more strict. In Rochester, for example, drinking or possessing an open container is not allowed in any areas accessible by the public, including on streets and sidewalks, in parks, playgrounds, parking lots or garages, schools or places of employment, as well any buildings or areas owned or operated by the city itself. There are exemptions for public consumption when a permit to consume alcohol or a license to sell it has been issued. Alcohol is also allowed during religious services.
- New York Vehicle & Traffic Law Section 1227: Consumption or Possession of Alcoholic Beverages in Certain Motor Vehicles
- New York State Senate: Laws of New York Section 81 License to Sell Wine for Consumption on Premises
- Rosenblum Law: New York Open Container Law – NYS VTL 1227-1
- Thrillist: Manhattan Just Decriminalized Public Drinking! Here's What It Means for You
- City of Rochester: Chapter 44 Conduct Section 44-9 Consumption and Possession of Open Containers of Alcoholic Beverages in Public
- New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation: Safe Boating Lawful Operations
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.