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States have laws about open containers to help reduce the frequency of drinking and driving, but laws vary from state to state. In North Carolina, there are very specific regulations about what is considered an open container of alcohol.

If you’re pulled over, and an officer sees an open container in your vehicle, can you simply say that it’s trash, or is it illegal for it to be in there in the first place? It’s a good question, and the answer is important for everyone to know.

Read on to find out more about open container laws in North Carolina – and when that trash in your backseat may lead to big legal issues.

Open Container Laws in North Carolina

In the state of North Carolina, you cannot legally transport open containers of alcohol in the area of the vehicle that contains passengers. Even if you’re only parked in the car and not driving, it’s still against the law.

Open container laws apply to those driving the vehicles and those riding as passengers. They also affect people using other forms of motorized transportation, like golf carts, ATVs, or motorcycles.

It’s important to note that the person who consumes or possesses the alcohol as an open container in the vehicle is the only one who will be in violation of the law. So, if you’re driving and someone else in the vehicle has an open container, you won’t necessarily be the one in trouble, unless you possess and consume alcohol in the vehicle, as well.

What Things Are Considered Open Containers?

In the state of North Carolina, a container with alcohol is considered open if the seal is broken on it. This includes containers of spirits such as vodka, wine, beer, and mixed alcoholic beverages.

North Carolina law does make for a few exemptions from the open container law. The following are exempt from the law:

  • Taxis
  • Limos
  • Other types of vehicles for hire
  • Motor homes
  • Other recreational vehicles in which someone can reside

You can also transport open containers legally if they are not in the part of the vehicle where passengers ride – or where they are easily accessible. So, for example, transporting an open container of a spirit in your trunk is likely okay.

Is It an Open Container or Trash?

If you have an empty open container of alcohol in your car, is that in violation of the law? Yes. The same rules apply to empty containers as they do full – if it’s in an area easily accessed by those in the car, then it violates the law. Even empty bottles must be transported in the trunk of the car.

Penalties for Violating the Open Container Law

If you are caught driving with an open container, then it is a Class 3 misdemeanor offense the first time. Any subsequent violations of the law will result in a Class 2 misdemeanor charge.

A Class 3 misdemeanor is punishable by up to 20 days behind bars. You may also be required to pay fines of up to $200. A Class 2 misdemeanor is punishable by up to two months in jail and fines of as much as $1,000.

It’s important to note that a misdemeanor conviction like this will go on your criminal record, which can have a negative impact on your future.


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