Can Passengers Drink Alcohol in a Car? | Ellis Injury Law

Can passengers drink alcohol in a car?

Many Californians might feel like they spend more than half their life in a car, especially those that live in and around Los Angeles. From driving to and from work and running errands, to hanging out with friends or family, a lot of daily activity revolves around being in a vehicle. Unfortunately, this means that many Californians are not only susceptible to car accidents, but also to other legal tangles involving vehicles, like DUI’s or open container infractions.

While you can always hire a Los Angeles personal injury lawyer to fight for your rights and best interests in these cases, we here at Ellis Law Corporation in Los Angeles know it’s always better to try and avoid them in the first place.  However, a lot of drivers don’t know the laws surrounding alcohol in a car, specifically if passengers can drink alcohol.

Passengers Cannot Drink Alcohol

Section 23221. (Amended by Stats. 1999, Ch. 723, Sec. 2.) of the California Vehicle Code states that:

  • No driver shall drink any alcoholic beverage while in a motor vehicle upon a highway.
  • No passenger shall drink any alcoholic beverage while in a motor vehicle upon a highway.

In order to show that you are guilty of breaking VC 23221, a prosecutor has to prove that you were drinking alcohol while in a vehicle, and that vehicle was on a highway. In this context, drinking alcohol can mean literally consuming alcohol, or merely having an open (unsealed) alcoholic beverage in the passenger occupied section of the vehicle. A vehicle is defined, for this purpose, as any self-propelled device from Segways and golf carts to cars, motorcycles and boats, and highways are defined as any public road.

For example, if you are driving home with your friends after a party and they bring an open bottle of wine in the car, both you and your friends could be ticketed. However, if you are riding around with your friends in an ATV on private property with an open bottle of wine, you are not in violation. Similarly, if you are driving home with your friends after a party and put an open bottle of wine in the trunk, or put a closed bottle of wine in the backseat, you will not be in violation.

Its important to remember that this law applies to both drivers and passengers, and the penalties are a lot more serious if you’re a minor driver or passenger.

Are There Any Exceptions?

California VC Section 23221 does not apply to passengers in some licensed vehicles for hire, such as private buses and limousines. The law also does not apply to taxi passengers.

The Penalties For Breaking VC 23221

Drinking or having an open container in a vehicle is classified as an infraction, putting it on the same level as getting a speeding ticket or another minor violation. Unlike getting a DUI, the maximum fine that can be charged for breaking VC 23221 is $250, with no jail time or suspended license.

However, the consequences are significantly more serious if you are under 21 years old. If you, as a driver or passenger, are under 21 and are charged with underage possession of alcohol in a vehicle, you can face criminal charges, up to 6 months in jail, and a $1000 fine.

Ellis Law Corporation

If you were caught in violation of VC 23221, a Los Angeles car accident lawyer from Ellis Law Corporation may be able to help. One of our lawyers can also help if you or someone you love was injured because another driver was driving under the influence.

You have the right to pursue compensation if you were injured in a car accident. Our expert team of professional and effective attorneys will work tirelessly to help you secure the compensation you deserve to not only cover your injury expenses, but also to make up for lost work, or pain and suffering. We have won over $350 million dollars for our clients, and are awarded positive verdicts in 99% of our cases. Contact Ellis Law today to learn how a personal injury attorney can help you.