Open Container Laws in North Carolina

Violating North Carolina’s open container law can result in an infraction or misdemeanor, fines, and jail time.
Written by Sophie Boka
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
Violating North Carolina’s open container law can result in an infraction or misdemeanor, fines, and even jail time.
Each state defines its own open container law. If you drive in North Carolina, knowing your state’s definition can help you drive smart and save money. 
For a breakdown of North Carolina’s open container law, top-rated
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North Carolina car insurance cost
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What is the open container law in North Carolina?

The North Carolina Department of Public Safety
spells out the open container law for non-commercial and commercial vehicles. For both, you can receive a citation when:
  • You possess open or unsealed containers—if the seal is broken, it is considered open
  • The container is in the passenger section—anywhere within reach of the driver or passenger, including the utility or glove compartment
  • Your vehicle is on the highway or right-of-way
  • Your car is in motion, stopped, or parked
Put simply, it is illegal to have open containers of alcohol in your car in any capacity unless they are sealed and kept in the trunk. This law applies to both passengers and drivers, regardless of sobriety level.

What counts as an open container?

North Carolina keeps it simple: “If the seal on a container of alcoholic beverage has been broken, it is open.” 
This means that any container carrying any amount of alcohol could be considered an open container. Nearly empty beer bottle on the ground? Open container. Flask with a few sips left on the backseat? Open container. So play it safe and keep the alcohol in your trunk.

Exceptions to North Carolina’s open container law

Although North Carolina takes its open container law seriously, there are a few exceptions, so take note. 
If you drive a commercial vehicle, you cannot have any alcohol in your vehicle—regardless of whether or not it is sealed. However, an exception is made to this law when:
  • The vehicle was manufactured and hired for transportation service (limo, bus, taxi) or 
  • The driver is completely sober
  • The open container is of malt (beer, malt liquor, ale, hard lemonade, etc.) or unfortified wine (table wine, champagne, etc.)
  • The open container is in the passenger area
If you drive a motor home or trailer, you are allowed to have alcohol in your vehicle if you satisfy the final three exception points made for commercial drivers.
Do note that there are some types of alcohol that are never allowed: 
  • Spirits (bourbon, gin, vodka, etc.)
  • Fortified wine
  • Mixed drinks
Key Takeaway If you’re driving in North Carolina and your alcohol is open, keep it in your trunk.

Penalties for violating North Carolina’s open container law

Violating North Carolina’s open container law is considered a moving violation and can lead to anything from an infraction to a misdemeanor. And don’t forget the fines and
points on your record
If you violate the law sober, you’ll be charged with an
. Passengers can also be charged. While you won’t go to jail, you will be fined up to $100 plus any additional fees.
Drinking and driving will bump this violation charge up to a misdemeanor.
Class 3 misdemeanor
Up to 20 days in jail
Class 2 misdemeanor
Up to 60 days in jail
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While these penalties are possible, most drivers who are convicted will pay a fine and be put on probation.
You’ll also be required to take a breathalyzer test. If you refuse the test or your BAC is above 0.08%, your license can be revoked for anywhere from six months to a year.
No matter how you’re caught, violating the open container law will beef up your driving record—and that means your car insurance will go up.

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Drivers and passengers can get tickets for possession of an open container in North Carolina.
No, passengers are not allowed to drink alcohol while in a car in North Carolina.
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