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California Open Container Laws

In California, it’s well known that it is unlawful to drive a vehicle while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage, a drug or a combination thereof, under California Vehicle Code (VC) Section 23152. In addition, California has “open container laws” which are codified in VC Sections 23221 – 23229. A driver or a passenger that is over 21 years old can have an unopened, factory-sealed alcohol container inside the passenger compartment of the vehicle; however, the “open container laws” make it illegal to have an open alcohol container in the passenger compartment of a motor vehicle.

Specifically, California VC Section 23221 prohibits drivers and passengers from consuming an alcoholic beverage while the motor vehicle is being driven on a roadway.

If you are a driver or a passenger that is over 21 years old and you have an open container in your possession in the vehicle, you can be charged with Possession of Open Container While Driving or Possession of Open Container in Motor Vehicle under California Vehicle Code Section 23222 or 23223.

It is also unlawful for a registered owner to store an opened alcohol container inside their vehicle under VC 23225. As well, it is illegal for the driver or a passenger to store an opened alcohol container inside the passenger compartment of the vehicle while the vehicle is being driven on a roadway, per California Vehicle Code Section 23226.

California VC Section 23224 addresses drivers and passengers that are under 21 years old. In essence this section states no person under 21 shall knowingly drive any motor vehicle carrying an alcoholic beverage and no passenger under 21 shall knowingly possess or have under their control any alcoholic beverage unless accompanied by a parent or an adult designated by a parent, or driving during the course of their employment, or if unaccompanied the underage driver was following the reasonable instructions of their parent.

There are exceptions to these “open container laws” that are found in VC 23229. Passengers in any bus, taxi, limo for hire licensed to transport passengers, or persons inside the living quarters of a housecar or camper are exempt from the possession of an open container and the drinking inside a vehicle laws. And, the driver of the vehicles listed above are exempt from the storage of an open container law found in VC 23225.

The above blog article is by no means all-inclusive and is not legal advice. Laws may change and may not apply to your case. For the latest information or to get legal advice, speak to a DUI defense attorney in your area.


If you have a open container or a DUI case pending against you, you owe it to yourself to speak to The Law Offices of Susan L. Hartman about your defense today. Call 619-260-1122 or fill out the “Contact Us” form on this page for a free telephone consultation.