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What Do Wisconsin's Open Container Laws Mean?

 Posted on March 29, 2022 in Criminal Defense

WI defense lawyerEveryone knows that driving drunk is illegal. However, there is some confusion about the legality of driving with alcoholic beverages in the car. Some of Wisconsin’s laws regarding open containers in vehicles are not so easy to interpret. Quite a few people end up getting a citation for an open container violation without even realizing that they were doing something wrong. While an open container citation is much less serious than an OWI, it can still be problematic to have on your record. A traffic attorney may be able to help if you have received this citation. In some cases, it may be better to contest the citation with a lawyer’s help than to simply pay the fine and move on.

What Does “Open Container” Mean?

The definition of an open container in Wisconsin is broader than you may realize. A container of alcohol is open if the seal is broken or the contents have been partially removed. Therefore, you cannot re-cork a wine bottle or replace the cap on a bottle of liquor and consider it closed. Alcohol in a flask is an open container as well.

Can Passengers Drink if the Driver is Not Drinking?

No. Passengers are not permitted to have an open container of alcohol in a personal vehicle either. Both the driver and the passenger can be cited for an open container violation, even if the driver had no idea that the passenger had brought alcohol into their car. Because this offense carries no jail time, it is considered a strict liability offense - meaning that if there was an open container and it was in your vehicle, you can be held responsible for it.

Are There Any Exceptions?

The only exceptions pertain to specific types of vehicles driven by a licensed chauffeur. Typically, this is limited to buses and limousines. In that case, passengers are permitted to have and consume alcoholic beverages.

How Can I Legally Transport a Bottle That Has Been Opened?

There is a way to lawfully transport a container of alcohol even if it has been opened. If you opened a bottle already and would like to take home the leftovers, you will need to place it in an area of the vehicle that is inaccessible to the driver. The trunk is the safest place to put it. If you drive a pickup truck or otherwise do not have a trunk, you must place it where the driver or passengers in the vehicle absolutely cannot reach it. This does not include areas like under the seat, in the glove box, or in the center console.

What Are the Penalties?

Penalties can include a fine and points on your license. You could be issued a written arrest. The penalties will increase if you are underage.

Call a Wisconsin Traffic Lawyer

Bucher Law Group, LLC is experienced in helping people who have been issued open container violations. Our Walworth County traffic attorneys can address all types of traffic violations. Call 262-303-4916 for a free consultation.




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