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Can A Passenger Drink Alcohol?

Jul 15 2016, by Sean Hessler in Alcohol, Legal Blog, OWI

Everyone knows that the driver of a car needs to be sober, but what about the passengers? Many people, particularly college students, aren’t aware of the Indiana open container law surrounding alcohol and vehicle passengers. People who go out for a few drinks or to a party need to know more than to simply assign a designated driver or to call an Uber at the end of the night. They need to understand when their own behavior as passengers becomes illegal.

If you were arrested as a passenger because you had alcohol in a vehicle, call the Indianapolis criminal defense attorneys of Hessler Law at (317) 886-8800.

Answering Basic Questions

While passengers can have alcohol in their systems and not be liable for a DUI in Indianapolis, that doesn’t mean they are free and clear to do whatever they want in the car. Here are the answers to a few basic questions to help you understand the limit of a passenger’s freedom:

  • Can vehicle passengers drink before they get in a car? Yes – this is why people have designated drivers or call taxis for rides home. But if an individual is under 21 years old, he or she can be ticketed for consuming alcohol even when he or she isn’t the driver.
  • Can passenger’s BACs be over the legal limit of 0.08 percent? Yes – the police aren’t concerned about passenger’s BAC levels unless they believe a passenger needs medical attention or if a passenger is underage. If there are signs of alcohol poisoning or any other injury, the police won’t bother with a breathalyzer, they will call for emergency medical responders.
  • Can passengers drink alcohol while in the car? No – once everyone gets in the car to head home or to the next venue, no one should have an open alcohol container or be drinking alcohol. The passenger’s age doesn’t matter.

Indiana Open Container Laws

Forty states and the District of Columbia have open alcohol container laws that make it illegal to drink in public or as a passenger in a personal vehicle. In Indiana, you cannot possess an open bottle of alcohol in the passenger area of the car. Therefore, you cannot drink alcohol as a passenger in a car because this inherently means you have an open container. If you are found to have alcohol in the car or if you were drinking as a passenger, you can be charged with an infraction.

You might be wondering how you can transport open bottles of alcohol if you are taking them to a party or back to your home. If you have to drive with open alcohol containers, they need to be stored where passengers don’t sit. It is best to put the open containers safely in the trunk.

Commercial Vehicle for Hire Exception

Many people have seen or heard of people who happily sip champagne in the back of a limo or enjoy beer on a party bus. That is because there is an exception to Indiana’s open container laws. People in vehicles for hire, who are not in the driver compartment, can consume alcohol. If you hire a limo or party bus to transport you to or from a venue, you can drink alcohol during the ride.

Does an Uber Count?

With the rise of companies like Uber, many people are wondering whether the commercial vehicle exception applies to Uber passengers. Can passengers drink in an Uber vehicle or not? While it may be a new grey area of the law, the answer is no. It is unlikely that the law will see an Uber the same as a limo. Also, Uber’s code of conduct states that alcohol is not permitted in the vehicle unless expressly allowed by that state’s law.

Hessler Law Can Help

If you were ticketed for having an open container of alcohol in the car or for drinking as a passenger, call the experienced Indianapolis criminal defense attorneys of Hessler Law at (317) 886-8800. They can inform you of your rights and help you fight the ticket.