Hey Man, Hold my Beer: A Brief Look at the Open Container Law in Arkansas

Posted on Monday, March 29th, 2021 at 5:06 pm    

Until early 2017, Arkansas was one of a few states which allowed you to have an open beer or liquor bottle in your car while driving around. Last year, Arkansas joined 43 other states who make it illegal to drive or ride with an open cerveza in your cup holder. This includes beer bottles, cans, flasks, and anything else used to contain alcohol. According to the US Department of Transportation this should include any alcohol that contains one-half of one percent alcohol by volume. However, there has to actually be alcohol in the container. The mere odor of intoxicants isn’t enough for a violation.

The Law

Under Arkansas Code § 5-71-218, anyone stopped with an open container in their vehicle may be charged with a class C misdemeanor. That carries with it a potential 30-day jail sentence and up to $500 in fines. This can include the driver as well as passengers, so an officer could possibly charge everyone in the vehicle. Be careful who you’re ridin’ dirty with.

Compare that to the consequences of a DWI conviction in the state of Arkansas. A drunk driving charge can net you a lengthy license suspension, alcohol classes, and a much higher likelihood of jail time and steep fines.

The vast majority of Americans actually approve of open container laws according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The same is true with citizens from states without open container laws. The obvious primary purpose of these state laws is to reduce the amount of alcohol-related fatalities each year. According to studies conducted by the NHTSA the numbers have dropped considerably under regulation.

Exceptions to Every Rule

There are several exceptions to this law. You’re allowed to drink in vehicles which are primarily used to transport people for compensation. This would include taxis, limousines, and busses. The living quarters of a motor home is also exempt. The law applies to vehicles traveling on public highways or on the shoulder. Therefore, if you’re charged while on private property you would have a good defense to an open container violation. However, if you’re behind the wheel when an officer walks up there’s still that pesky DWI thing to worry about.

Placing a bottle in a locked glove box or console would likely be ok. Still, your best bet is to put it in the car trunk, hatchback, or bed of your pick-up. Having a person riding in the bed of your truck will likely not violate the statute. However, keeping a person in the trunk of your car is a topic for another blog.

Think Before You Drink

The moment you break the seal on that bottle of Apple Crown, you could be in violation of the statute. You don’t even have to take a sip under the Arkansas open container law. Or even sniff it for that matter. Think this is too strict? You could avoid open-container regulation altogether by traveling across the river to Mississippi. There you can legally drink while driving under state law. Just be aware of the abnormally high rate of alcohol-related fatalities.

The Law Offices of David L Powell can help if you or a family member has been charged with an open container violation, DWI, DUI, minor in possession, or public intox in the Fort Smith, Arkansas area. Call 479-222-6773 to schedule a free consultation. (Also licensed in Oklahoma)

This blog is for educational purposes as well as to give you general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. In reading this blog you understand that there is no attorney-client relationship between you and the author. Use this information at your own risk as this blog may not reflect the most current legal developments. This blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state.