Florida's Open Container Law: What You Should Know

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Every state has open container laws, and the Sunshine State is no exception. Whether you're a driver or a passenger, it is illegal to have an open container of an alcoholic beverage in a vehicle in Florida. There are also open container laws for those on foot in specific areas, like on a beach, though they may differ from place to place.

The state of Florida lawmakers created a statewide open container law in 1998 to keep regulations and enforcement consistent all over the state. The law has been amended since its passing to give counties and municipalities the ability to pass even more restrictive laws, as well as adjust the law in places like tourist areas.

Florida's Open Container Law

According to Florida Statute Section 316.1936, an open container is "any container of alcoholic beverage which is immediately capable of being consumed from, or the seal of which has been broken." If alcohol with a broken seal is found open in the main cabin of a vehicle while on the roadways and it is within reach, it is a violation of the open container law. Florida defines roadways as not only highways and streets, but also as alleys, sidewalks, bridges, culverts or anywhere else that can be traversed by the general public.

If an open container is in a passenger's physical possession and not locked away in an inaccessible part of the vehicle, such as a locked trunk, it is automatically considered in the possession of the vehicle's operator. The open container law also applies to vehicles that are stopped or parked; it is illegal to have accessible alcohol in the main cabin of a car, even in those instances.

Exceptions to Open Container Law

Florida's open container law is strictly enforced across the state, but there are some exceptions. When an operator with a valid commercial driver's license is driving a vehicle for hire, such as a bus or a limousine, there is an exemption to the open container law because it is understood that passengers may be drinking. Passengers in Florida are also exempt if they are in a self-contained motor home with a length of 21 feet or more. Alcohol is not prohibited in a parked motor home or a commercial vehicle. Most cars used for ride-sharing do not require a commercial license, and they must adhere to open container laws.

Some restaurant owners may allow customers to bring a bottle of wine to their establishment or to take an already opened bottle home. In this case, wine is exempted from the open container law, according to Florida 2020 Statute Section 564.09. The bottle must be recorked and placed in a bag or another secure container with a dated receipt for the wine and the meal attached. It should be placed in a locked area in the motor vehicle, such as the trunk or locked glove compartment. If the car does not have one, it should be placed behind an upright seat that is the furthest distance from the driver. In any case, it should not be accessible while the car is on the road.

Open Container Violations and Penalties

According to Florida Ticket Firm, a possession of an open container charge is considered a noncriminal traffic violation, with a fine of about $60. This small amount can increase after a hearing to $500, the maximum penalty for a driver convicted of an open container charge. In addition to fines, convicted drivers may be subject to court fees, the amount of which is based on the location, and they may have three points added to their driving record/license. If a driver is a repeat offender, their license might be suspended or revoked.

A passenger who is found guilty of an open container infraction can face a $30 fine, plus court fees and assessments, the price of which depends on their location. A passenger also faces a maximum fine of $500 if convicted of an open container charge after a hearing.

Open Container on Boats

In Florida, the laws around operating a boat and driving a car are similar. However, it is legal to have an open container of alcohol on watercraft for both passengers and boat operators. Both can also consume alcohol, according to The Mariner.com, but this doesn't mean there aren't strict boating while intoxicated (BWI) laws in place.

The operator of a vehicle, boat or a jet ski, or using accessories such as water skis or sailboards while intoxicated can be charged with BWI. A boat operator with a blood alcohol level (BAL) of 0.08 percent or higher is considered intoxicated. A BAL of 0.05 to 0.08 percent combined with other behaviors that seem dangerous or risky may also signal that a boat operator is under the influence.

Public Consumption of Alcohol in Florida

Public consumption of alcohol is generally not acceptable, according to Florida 2020 Statute Section 856.011, and open container laws not involving vehicles typically fall under this statute. Depending upon the location, a person can be cited for consuming or possessing alcohol on public streets, sidewalks, parking lots or beaches. This also holds true on private property if the property owner does not offer express permission to consume alcohol.

Public consumption laws vary around the state. In examples given by criminal defense attorney Dean G. Tsourakis, Clearwater does not allow alcohol on public property, including beaches. Tampa's laws are similar, but alcohol is allowed on the Riverwalk in a specific area if it was purchased from designated bars or restaurants in the hours between 11 a.m. and 1 a.m. A person cannot have more than two drinks at a time, and the alcohol must be in plastic cups labeled with an official Riverwalk logo.