Can You Drive with Alcohol in Your Car? Takeout Alcohol 101
Now that Ohioans can take cocktails to go, what should they know about laws regarding alcohol in vehicles? Can you drive with alcohol in your car?
Today, we’re tackling this important question. Keep reading to learn about “open container” laws and what you need to know to avoid an OVI in Ohio.
What Is Open Container Law?
Ohio has long had what’s commonly called an “open container” law. This law prohibits people from having an open container of alcohol (beer, wine, spirits, etc.) in their possession while driving their car or walking around a public place (with a few exceptions).
Specifically, Ohio Revised Code 4301.62 says:
“No person shall have in the person’s possession an opened container of beer or intoxicating liquor in any of the following circumstances…
- (4) Except as provided in division (D) or (E) of this section, while operating or being a passenger in or on a motor vehicle on any street, highway, or other public or private property open to the public for purposes of vehicular travel or parking;
- (5) Except as provided in division (D) or (E) of this section, while being in or on a stationary motor vehicle on any street, highway, or other public or private property open to the public for purposes of vehicular travel or parking.”
Lawmakers passed the open container law in order to deter drunk driving and protect the public.
It’s because of open container laws that many people either avoid driving with alcohol entirely or keep the alcohol in the trunk of their vehicle to avoid OVI charges.
How Open Container Law Has Changed
Just a few short years ago, it was illegal under Ohio law to take alcoholic beverages to go. You could buy spirits, beer, or wine from a grocery or liquor store, but you couldn’t go to a restaurant and get alcohol with your takeout.
However, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, that’s changed.
Ohio lawmakers loosened restrictions on takeout alcohol during pandemic lockdowns in order to support local businesses. The measure was a way for restaurants to stay afloat while unable to offer in-house dining. (Alcohol makes up a large percentage of many restaurants’ profits.)
Restaurant owners lobbied for the change to be made permanent, and a bill allowing to-go alcohol sales was signed into law by Governor DeWine in October of 2020.
Today, bars, restaurants, breweries, micro-distilleries, and wineries can sell up to three drinks per meal for customers to drink elsewhere. These drinks must be in covered cups or in their original, sealed containers.
Ohio law allows takeout alcohol only when it’s sold with a meal.
Customers can get their takeout alcohol by picking it up themselves or even through food delivery services like DoorDash, Grubhub, or UberEats.
Can You Drive with Alcohol in Your Car?
The answer to this question is yes, with a few important caveats.
As we mentioned above, when you drive with alcohol in your car, the alcohol must be in a covered or sealed container. For example, that means a corked wine bottle, an unopened can of beer, or a sealed cocktail cup.
If your takeout alcohol is unsealed or opened, you risk running afoul of Ohio’s open container law.
Also remember that Ohio’s takeout alcohol law doesn’t mean that drinking and driving is now legal. It’s still against the law for the driver or the passenger to consume alcohol. That means neither you nor your passenger can sample your margaritas on the way home. Don’t let a few sips land you in hot water with the law!
As long as the container is sealed, you can legally drive with alcohol anywhere in your car. However, it’s usually a good idea to keep the alcohol out of the front cup holders. This is for several reasons.
First, it’s less tempting for the driver or passenger to have a few sips during the drive. (Out of sight, out of mind.) Second, if you are pulled over, law enforcement is less likely to suspect you of drunk driving. A container of alcohol in the cup holder screams, “Time for the driver to do field sobriety tests!”
Sometimes, you can’t put takeout alcohol in the trunk. (Cocktail cups rolling around in the trunk are liable to break open and spill.) In that case, double-check the seal on the alcohol container before driving. If you get pulled over, be prepared for law enforcement to notice and ask about the alcohol—and remember your rights.
We’re Here to Help
Takeout alcohol is here to stay, so we hope you take these recommendations to stay safe on the road.
If you or a loved one are facing charges from an open container or OVI, we’re here to help. Call Casper & Casper today to talk through your options.
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