The laws regarding alcohol in the state of Florida are constantly changing and being updated. One such law is Florida’s open container law, which could have serious consequences for drivers if they get into a car accident and cause injuries to the other party. Whether you are a Florida resident or a tourist visiting the Tampa area on vacation, it is important to know about Florida’s open container law. 

An open beer bottle in public.

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What Is an Open Container According to Florida Law?

According to FLA. STAT. § 316.1936, an open container is considered any container with any type of alcohol that can be consumed immediately or where the seal has been broken. For example, you prepare a mixed drink in a glass or open a bottle of beer or wine. 

Section (2)(a) specifically applies to vehicle operators and their passengers. It states that it is unlawful to possess an open container or consume it while operating a vehicle in Florida. It is also illegal for any passenger in the vehicle to have an open container or drink alcohol. 

Florida also has open container laws for drinking in public spaces. For example, many beaches in the Tampa and Clearwater areas prohibit alcohol. However, there are specific locations, especially in the Riverwalk area, where you can have open alcoholic beverages in public spaces. 

Exceptions to Florida’s Open Container Laws

Florida does allow for some exceptions to the state’s open container laws, as follows:

  • Passengers in a commercial vehicle operated by a driver with a commercial driver’s license can have an open container and drink alcohol. Commercial vehicles include limousines, taxis, party buses, and buses. 
  • Recreational vehicles (RVs) and motorhomes that are 21 feet or longer can have open containers inside the vehicle. Passengers are allowed to consume alcohol as long as it is in the “living” area of the RV or motorhome. 
  • Wine opened in a restaurant can be recorked and transported home in a vehicle. The wine must be stored in a bag in the trunk or locked in the glove box where it is not accessible. If the vehicle does not have a trunk, the wine must be stored in the very back of the vehicle. You must also have a receipt showing the wine was purchased on the same day it is being transported in the vehicle. 

Can I Drink as a Passenger in an Uber or Lyft Rideshare?

While using rideshares as alternate forms of transportation has grown in recent years, passengers cannot consume alcohol or have open containers in the vehicle. Uber and Lyft vehicles are not considered commercial vehicles in Florida. The only exception is when transporting opened wine home from a restaurant. The wine still needs to be stored in the trunk, the very back of the vehicle, or locked in a glove box. 

Penalties for Violating Florida’s Open Container Laws

The procedures for violating Florida’s open container laws are defined in FLA. STAT. § 316.1936 and are as follows:

  • A person charged with a violation receives a summons to appear
  • If the person doesn’t appear for the summons, they may face a misdemeanor charge and a bench warrant will be issued for their arrest
  • If the violation caused a death, the person could face criminal charges, as well as be sued in civil court by the decedent’s family

The actual penalties vary depending on whether the person attempts to fight the ticket or simply pays it. If the person decides to pay the ticket, they can be fined up to $100. If the person decides to fight the ticket and is found guilty of the offense, they could be fined up to $500 and have three points added to their driver’s license. 

If the offense occurred in an Uber or Lyft vehicle and the driver was in possession of alcohol, they could face a fine of up to $500 and potential jail time. However, if the passenger was in possession of alcohol, they face the same penalties mentioned above. 

In the event of accidental death or serious injuries, and the driver was operating under the influence, they could face additional charges, penalties, license suspension, and potential jail time. 

Why Are Open Containers Illegal?

Open containers are illegal in Florida because the laws regarding them help discourage drinking while driving or as a passenger in a motor vehicle. Passengers who become intoxicated in a vehicle can become a distraction for the driver, even when they are sober, which could result in a car accident. 

Drunk Driving Accidents in Florida

When you look at drunk driving accident statistics in Florida, it is easy to understand where there are open container laws. According to the FLHSMV’s Crash Dashboard, the following was reported for 2023:

  • 5,060 alcohol-impaired driving crashes
  • 3,023 alcohol-impaired driving injuries
  • 319 alcohol-impaired driving fatalities

For 2024, up through May 23, 2024, the FLHSMV reports the following data:

  • 1,725 alcohol-impaired driving crashes
  • 950 alcohol-impaired driving injuries
  • 33 alcohol-impaired driving fatalities

Can You Sue Someone for Violating the Open Container Law and Causing a Crash?

Yes, you can file a lawsuit against a drunk driver for damages and injuries you sustained when they violated the open container law and are at fault for causing the car crash. However, you will need to first seek compensation through your own insurance, as Florida is a no-fault state. Once you have exhausted your benefits, then you can file a lawsuit against the responsible party. 

If You Have Been the Victim of a Drunk Driver, Let Jack Bernstein, Injury Attorneys, Fight for You

If you were injured by a drunk driver, you have the right to seek compensation under civil and tort laws in Florida — the amount of compensation you are entitled to can vary based on your injuries and other factors. At Jack Bernstein, Injury Attorneys, our Tampa car accident attorneys tirelessly advocate for your rights and ensure you receive a fair and just settlement. We help gather evidence, negotiate with insurance companies on your behalf, and take care of all other legal aspects, allowing you to focus on healing and recovery. 

Contact our Tampa car accident attorneys for a free consultation now.

Sources:

FLA. STAT. § 316.1936. (2023).

FLA. STAT. § 318.14. (2023).

Florida Crash Dashboard. (2024).


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