Can Passengers Drink Alcohol in a Car in Virginia?

Can passengers drink alcohol in a car in Virginia? Technically, yes, but the driver could risk a maximum fine of $2,500.
Written by Andrea Barrett
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
Virginia’s open container laws
allow passengers to possess an open container in a car. Still, because consuming alcohol while operating a motor vehicle is illegal in
, a driver could be presumed guilty of drinking alcohol if there is an open container in the car—but there are certain exceptions.
Open container laws and laws around alcohol in the car vary across the nation, so if you’re planning to drive, you must become familiar with your state’s laws. Familiarizing with Virginia’s laws could help you avoid hefty consequences, such as a $2,500 fine and a potential DUI charge.
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Can passengers drink alcohol in a car in Virginia?

Yes—According to
§ 18.2-323.1
of the Code of Virginia, drivers are prohibited from consuming alcohol while driving a motor vehicle, but open container laws in Virginia do not apply to passengers.
Before diving in further, let’s ensure we have a thorough understanding of what an open container is. Any alcoholic beverage—distilled spirits, beer, wine, coolers—with 0.5% alcohol by volume in any vessel containing, except the originally sealed manufacturer’s container, is considered an “open container” in Virginia. So, even if the bottle has a cap or cork, it's an open container if the original seal is broken.
That said, Virginia’s open container law differs slightly from most states. Having an open container in the vehicle isn’t inherently illegal in Virginia, but drivers can be presumed guilty of consuming alcohol if there is an open container in the car
This law also applies to open containers in the passenger area of a car. However, it can legally be stored in the vehicle’s trunk, or if there is no trunk behind the last upright row of seats, where it is out of reach of the driver. 
So, while Virginia’s open container law doesn’t specifically prohibit passengers from drinking in a vehicle, their actions could result in the driver being charged with a
if they’re pulled over by local law enforcement, even if they haven’t been drinking.
It’s also important to note that a passenger drinking may violate Virginia’s public drinking laws. In § 4.1-308 of the Virginia Code, public drinking laws are as follows:
"If any person takes a drink of alcoholic beverages or offers a drink thereof to another, whether accepted or not, at or in any public place, he shall be guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor." According to § 4.1-100, a “public place” includes any “place, building, or conveyance to which the public has, or is permitted to have, access, including restaurants, soda fountains, hotel dining areas, lobbies and corridors of hotels, and any park, place of public resort or amusement, highway, street, lane, or sidewalk adjoining any highway, street, or lane."
While it may be legal for passengers to have open containers in a vehicle, consuming alcohol on a highway, street, or lane would violate this statute.

Exceptions to open container laws in Virginia

As with most states, there are exceptions to the rules about open containers for passengers in Virginia. 
Virginia passengers are legally allowed to carry an open container of alcohol in the passenger area of any vehicle for hire, such as a taxi, limousine, or bus. This exception also applies to passengers consuming alcohol or transporting an open container who live in a motorhome.
It's important to remember that regardless of whether you’re a passenger or driver, all open containers of alcohol must be appropriately stored during transportation—that means out of reach of the driver. Open containers can be stored in:
  • The trunk of the vehicle
  • Behind the last upright seat of the vehicle, if there is no trunk
  • In the living area of a motorhome
  • In the passenger area of a vehicle for hire

Penalties for an open container violation in Virginia

Violating Virginia's state open container laws could lead to hefty consequences. If you’re stopped by law enforcement, the fine depends on your convicted violation. 
Even if the driver of a vehicle is sober, an open container in the passenger area of a car is considered a violation of the open container law. It could result in a maximum fine of $2,500—but it doesn’t stop there. If a Police officer suspects you’ve been drinking behind the wheel, they can request a blood-alcohol content (BAC) test, and if you fail, you could be charged with driving under the influence
A DUI in Virginia comes with a fine ranging from $250 to $2,500, a one-year license suspension, six-month minimum ignition interlocking device (IID), and up to 12 months in jail—and that’s just for a first offense.
Plus, you also have to consider Virginia’s public drinking laws. Since drinking in a public space is considered illegal, passenger alcohol consumption could violate this law and is classified as a Class 4 Misdemeanor and carries a fine of up to $250.
Simply put, don’t let passengers in your vehicle have open containers of alcohol—it could land everyone in serious trouble, but the driver endures the bulk of the penalties. 
Key Takeaway If you’re caught with a passenger who has an open container of alcohol, the passenger could receive a $250 fine, and the driver could receive up to a $2,500 fine, among other penalties. 
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