It’s relatively common knowledge that Florida police have the right to make a DUI arrest if they suspect that a driver is under the influence of alcohol. But what about passengers? If you’re completely sober behind the wheel, are you held liable for the actions of those in your own vehicle? Do passengers face similar consequences?
With certain exceptions, Florida prohibits drinking alcohol and possessing open containers of alcohol for anyone inside a vehicle, including passengers. Broken down here are Florida’s open container laws, the penalties drivers and passengers may face if found in violation, and how you may defend yourself.
Understanding Florida’s Open Container Laws
Most states—including Florida—have laws prohibiting the presence of open cans, bottles, or other unsealed containers of alcoholic beverages on sidewalks, streets, and inside vehicles. In Florida, this law pertains to drivers, passengers, and even those sitting in a vehicle parked or stopped along a road. A “road” is defined here broadly to include any area open to travel by the public, such as streets, highways, alleys, and sidewalks. It also applies to culverts, ditches, bridges, and tunnels.
Drivers and passengers found with an open container—which is considered by the State of Florida as any alcoholic beverage that has a broken seal or that’s immediately capable of being consumed—may face misdemeanor charges. A driver who violates open container laws may also be found guilty of a noncriminal moving traffic violation, which is punishable by a fine of up to $90 for a first offense. If you’re a passenger, the penalty is a fine of up to $60 for a first offense. In addition, drivers and passengers may have to pay associated court fees and have points placed on their driving record.
The Exceptions to Florida’s Open Container Laws
It’s important to note exceptions to the rule. Florida’s open container laws don’t apply to passengers in the following scenarios:
- The driver holds a valid commercial driver’s license and is operating a vehicle pursuant to a contract to provide transportation for passengers
- The driver holds a valid commercial driver’s license and is operating a bus
- The passenger is in a self-contained motor home over 21 feet in length
This exception includes those who have an open container in a taxi, party bus, or limousine that’s a for-hire vehicle. In addition, if you purchase a bottle of wine at a restaurant with your meal and wish to take it home in your vehicle after breaking the seal, Florida lawmakers have carved out an exception to allow this. You may transport an open bottle of wine in your motor vehicle as long as it’s placed in a secured bag or container, you have a dated receipt attached to the bag or container, and the container is placed in a locked glove compartment or the trunk of your car.
Can Florida Drivers Be Charged with DUI If Their Passenger Is Under the Influence?
The short answer is no, a driver can’t be charged with a DUI based on the actions of their passengers. They can, however, face other penalties, such as fines and a loss of driving points for driving with an open container of alcohol in the car, even if they’re sober. As long as you weren’t driving under the influence or over the legal BAC limit, you may be able to walk away with just an infraction.
Likewise, a passenger isn’t a driver and therefore can’t be charged with DUI themselves, even if they’re above the legal limit. However, there are exceptions to the rule. For instance, if a passenger reaches over and touches the wheel—even just to correct the driver’s steering—they become a driver in the eyes of the law. Therefore, a passenger who touches the steering wheel while intoxicated can theoretically be arrested for DUI.
Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer in West Palm Beach
If you’re a driver who’s been arrested based on the actions of your passenger or if you’re a passenger who’s been arrested for carrying an open container in a vehicle, get in touch with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in West Palm Beach as soon as possible. For legal assistance, look no further than The Law Office of Gabriel & Gabriel.
Attorney Brian Gabriel has served the community of West Palm Beach for more than 30 years as a DUI and criminal defense attorney. He understands the complexities often involved in these cases and can help protect your reputation and future. After a DUI or open container arrest, you can be assured that Attorney Brian Gabriel will fight for your rights. Call (561) 622-5575 or complete our contact form for a free consultation.