The holiday season is in full swing and many people are attending parties that are spiked with light hearts, but hard drinks. With all the holly, jolly fun around, people tend to drink more and sometimes make poor choices. While we at the Lieser Law Firm encourage you to enjoy the season and have fun at your social gatherings, remember to BE RESPONSIBLE.
Getting behind the wheel while intoxicated and/or having open containers of alcohol in the vehicle for you or your passengers to drink can lead to negligence, deadly car accidents and injuries for innocent people. As a personal injury attorney, I feel obligated to inform you of the law about open containers and the severe consequences that can come along with it.
What is the Law on Open Containers in Illinois
Illinois statute 625-ILCS 5/11-502 states that “it is unlawful to transport, carry, or possess any alcoholic beverage within the passenger compartment of the car unless it is in the original container and the seal is unbroken.” The only exception to this rule is for limos and chartered busses.
A ticket for transportation of an open container of an alcoholic beverage that results in a conviction may suspend the defendant’s driver’s license. The rule is, for drivers 21 and older, 2 convictions within one year results in a suspension.
The same rule applies to your passengers.
Illinois has a Zero Tolerance Law for drivers under age. If the driver is younger than 21 years old, then two issues arise: 1) possession or consumption of alcohol by a minor results in a Zero Tolerance Suspension; 2) a ticket for transportation of an open container of alcohol may result in a driver’s license revocation.
The Importance of Open Container Laws
Open Container Laws are designed to protect citizens by reducing injuries from drunk driving and disorderly conduct. Congress passed the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21 Restoration Act) in 1998 to give each state a financial incentive for restricting drinking in vehicles. The states that don’t act on container laws will lose a portion of federal highway construction funds, which will then be re-directed to alcohol education. Currently there are only 7 states that are not compliant with TEA-21; Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Mississippi, Missouri, Virginia, and West Virginia.
The TEA 21 Restoration Act came with the purpose of encouraging all states to bring their open container laws in line with the federal standard. The theory was that by enforcing the laws that ban open containers of alcohol inside a vehicle that drunk driving would decrease. Illinois and 35 other states complied with the rule. Most of the states that conformed to the federal open container law showed a large decrease in drunk-driving incidents only 6 months after enforcing the new rule. Fatal crash rates dropped over 5% according to M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving).
Open Container Penalties
An open container violation is often a ticketed offence like a speeding ticket. The officer will write out a ticket and have the defendant sign it based on their promise to appear at a later court date. The punishment for an open container offence is usually a fine, which can be as high as $1,000. Jail time may be a possible punishment depending on the state and the circumstances of the ticket.
More importantly, an open container violation can lead to other more serious charges. If an officer smells the odor of alcohol and sees an open container, this may be enough to undertake a DUI investigation. A DUI arrest will result in substantially increased punishments, and will be significantly more costly than an open container ticket.
Even if the driver is not intoxicated, an open container can result in more trouble. Having an open container in your vehicle is a legal action that gives an officer the authority to search the vehicle for any other open containers. While conducting the search, if the officer happens to find other contraband, such as a controlled substance, the driver faces arrest and conviction on those separate charges as well.
The purpose of this post is to provide information and answer a common question. Drivers must always exercise the highest degree of care when operating motor vehicles. Remember that actions do not have to be illegal to be negligent.
If you or anyone you know has suffered a personal injury due to the negligence of someone else, please CONTACT today.