Whether you call it drinking and driving, drunk driving, driving under the influence, or driving while intoxicated – it essentially means the same thing: You (1) drank enough alcohol to the point where you could not drive a vehicle safely and (2) you drove a vehicle.
Different states have different acronyms for ultimately the same crime. In some states, it is not a crime – unless you are under 21 years old – to drink and then drive with an amount of alcohol in your system that does not impair your driving.
While the majority of DUI arrests come from a person drinking first and then driving, there’s the often overlooked issue of drinking while driving. Drinking and driving at the same time isn’t as common because most people know being found with an open container in the car is a dead giveaway to law enforcement that you are drinking and driving.
DRINKING AND DRIVING AND OPEN CONTAINER LAWS
As you can probably guess, it is illegal in almost every state to have an open container in the vehicle. An open container means any bottle, can, or receptacle used to contain alcohol that is readily accessible to the driver or their passengers. So if you have a half-consumed bottle of vodka, you’ll be safe if you have it in the trunk of your car, or in the bed of your truck. The Federal government threatened to withhold transportation funding for states that did not enact open container laws under TEA-21. Thirty-nine (39) states plus the District of Colombia are in full compliance with TEA-21 banning any open container in the passenger compartment or readily accessible to a person in the vehicle.
Mississippi is the only state where the driver can be physically drinking and driving. But for Mississippians, if you’re pulled over by law enforcement and they suspect you of drinking and driving, you can still be arrested for DUI if your BAC is found to be .08 or higher. In addition to Mississippi, in Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Missouri, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia, passengers can drink while the vehicle is moving.
For those who want to eliminate the risk of drinking of and driving – take cabs, buses, or limos. Given the commercial classification of these vehicles, passengers are allowed to have open containers – so while they may be drinking, they’re not drinking and driving.
CONSEQUENCES OF DRINKING AND DRIVING
You can bet that if law enforcement pulls you over and they find an open container in your vehicle, they’re going to do everything they can to charge you with a DUI. If you’re found to be drinking and driving – but your BAC doesn’t rise to the level of a DUI – the officer can still make the determination that you’re drinking and driving, and can cite you for a lesser version of a DUI or a violation of your state’s open container laws. Any convictions related to drinking and driving are still very serious and you should consult with an attorney that specializes in drinking and driving cases.
If you violate your state’s open container laws, but are found to be able to safely operate a vehicle, you may be fined in ranges from $30 all the way up to $1000. An open container citation will also be reported to your insurance carrier and may result in an increase in your policy premiums. If you are under 21, a violation of open container laws may suspend your driving privileges. There are a multitude of consequences to violating open container laws, so you’ll definitely want to fight your drinking and driving or open container charges. Review our comprehensive list of local DUI attorneys in your area to help if you’ve been arrested for drinking and driving.