Open Container Laws in Virginia

An open container of alcohol inside the passenger area of a vehicle can quickly lead to a DUI charge in Virginia.
Written by Matt Nightingale
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
open container laws can quickly lead to bigger problems—like being charged with driving under the influence. And a DUI charge may result in a $2,500 fine and up to one year in jail for a first offense.
Open container laws vary from state to state, and Virginia’s is a little confusing. Luckily,
is here to break down all the details of Virginia’s open container laws.

What is the open container law in Virginia?

Virginia’s open container law is a little different than most states. Possession of an open container in a vehicle is technically not illegal in Virginia. However, consumption of alcohol while operating a motor vehicle is illegal in Virginia, and Virginia law states that a driver can be presumed guilty of consuming alcohol if there is an open container in the vehicle.
The law applies to open containers in the passenger area of a vehicle. But an open container of alcohol can be stored legally in the trunk of a vehicle, or if there is no trunk, behind the last row of upright seats, out of reach of the driver.

What counts as an open container?

According to
Section 18.2-323.1 of the Code of Virginia
, an open container is “any vessel containing an alcoholic beverage, except the originally sealed manufacturer’s container.” So, even if you’ve replaced the bottle cap or cork, if the original seal is broken, it is considered an open container.

Exceptions to Virginia’s open container law

Virginia’s open container laws apply to the passenger area of a vehicle. Open containers can be legally transported in the vehicle’s trunk or behind the last row of seats, so long as the container is not within reach of the driver.
Open containers and consumption of alcohol are allowed in the living area of motorhomes, as well as in vehicles for hire like taxis and limousines. Open containers can also be transported on buses.
Generally speaking, Virginia’s open container law does not apply to passengers. Passengers cannot be charged or fined for consuming or possessing an open container of alcohol in a vehicle. However, if you are in an area of Virginia that prohibits open containers on public streets—like Charlottesville or Chesterfield County—you can be charged with an open container because you technically have open alcohol in public.
While it’s not illegal for passengers to possess an open container, the mere presence of an open container in a vehicle can lead to a consumption of alcohol charge for the driver. Virginia law presumes that if there is an open container in a vehicle, the driver is guilty of consuming unless they can prove otherwise.
Key Takeaway It is not illegal to possess an open container in a vehicle, but it can easily lead to more serious charges for the driver.

Penalties for violating Virginia’s open container law

If you are charged with consumption of alcohol while operating a vehicle, you face a maximum fine of $2,500. But, that’s not necessarily the end of it.
If a police officer believes you have consumed alcohol while operating a vehicle, they may ask you to submit to a blood-alcohol content (BAC) test. If you fail the BAC test, you can be charged with
driving under the influence in Virginia
, which can bring fines, a suspended license, and jail time—even for a first offense.
A DUI will stay on your Virginia driving record for 11 years and can cause your insurance rates to skyrocket.
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No, but passengers can get a ticket for having an open container in public if they are in an area with local laws against possessing open containers in public.
Your license cannot be suspended for an open container in Virginia. However, an open container can easily lead to a DUI charge, which can mean license suspension.
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