I broke the law over the weekend.

You ever notice how similar the cans for Coke Zero and Budweiser Select are? Being a regular drinker of neither, I didn’t. Turns out that they both have black cans with red lettering. It’s easy to think that you picked up one when you actually picked up the other. Very easy. I did so twice over the course of three days. The first time I simply thought that I was wondering when Budweiser came out with a cola flavored beer (come to think of it, why haven’t they?). The second time, I broke the law. I grabbed a can out of the cooler, opened it, and hit the road.

I realized my mistake after first sip, of course, but that left me with an open can of beer in my cupholder as I was cruising down the Interstate at 70 miles per hour. There are laws about having open alcohol containers on the road and I’m not sure a cop pulling me over would have understood my explanation (or would have wondered how drunk one must be not to notice the difference between beer and coke, which would have had the same effect). I thought about pouring the contents out the window, but figured that would attract undue attention. As would pulling over to the shoulder just to dump a drink.

That got me thinking, though… what exactly is the rationale behind having a separate open container law in addition to BAC drunk driving laws? I mean, if I was drunk, couldn’t they determine that with a breathalizer? Having alcohol in one’s system while driving is not in itself illegal (yet). The process of drinking from a beer can is no different (or more distracting) than drinking from a coke can.

Delosa was actually one of the last states to have an Open Container law. Not too long ago it was ridiculously difficult for a police officer to pull someone over for suspicion of drunk driving. Having a beer can in one’s hand was not sufficient. They’d usually pull people over by simply finding an alternate excuse (“changing lanes too quickly” or whatnot). So maybe the reason for Open Container laws is simply to provide justification for a pull-over. On the other hand, most of the time open containers are not visible until the car has already been pulled over.

I must confess that I don’t know a whole lot about criminal law, but would it be possible to be able to say that having an open container (if the cop can see it, of course) is justification for pulling someone over, but not an offense in and of itself? I’d figured that a behavior’s legality does not prohibit said behavior from being justification for further police scrutiny if it is otherwise suspicious, but maybe I’m wrong about that?

Another thought is that Open Container laws could be aimed at other people drinking in the car and distracting the driver. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, either, though, because driving someone that is drunk is not only legally permissible, but actively encouraged (lest they drive themselves).


Category: Courthouse, Road

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3 Responses to Driving While Confused

  1. Webmaster says:

    If I remember correctly, the “open container” law idea is to prevent someone from becoming drunk while driving (e.g. starting out sober, downing a beer or two while on the road, and then getting in an accident).

    The other standing idea is, yes, the “justification” side – if a cop sees you with what they think is an alcoholic drink in your hand, they have a reason to pull you over.

    I’ve had to explain to a cop why I was drinking bottled root beer before due to precisely the same “similar packaging” confusion.

    And of course, I have to wonder – will you be pulled over or cited for drinking one of the various non-alcoholic beers while driving?

  2. trumwill says:

    Seems to me that it would rest completely on justification. If the idea is that driving drunk is dangerous, then it’s the BAC that matters and not whether one drank at a bar before leaving or in a car on the way home. In fact, if one is primarily interested in being pro-active to prevent people from drunk driving, bars would be a good place to start. Even without open container laws, the number of people that are going to get drunk while driving is miniscule.

    As far as near-beer is concerned, you would almost certainly get pulled over for drinking it but I would imagine that you couldn’t get cited for it (like you and your root beer) or if you were you could get it dismissed. Of course, the problem is that once you’ve been pulled over, some cops will go out of their way to find something to ticket you for so that they haven’t wasted their time. I know people that have gotten pulled over for never-enforced laws under suspicion of drunk driving and even though demonstrably sober (passed the breathalizer or the human tricks tests) got tickets for things like “driving too close to the curb” or “changing lanes twice within 200 feet”. On the other hand, I did get pulled over for doing something illegal and when the officer determined I was drunk, he chose not to ticket me at all (perhaps out of embarassment). So I guess it can work both ways.

  3. Peter says:

    A girl living about 30 miles from me had a creative DWI excuse:

    They say a lover’s kiss can be intoxicating.

    Gianna Vigliotti, who was pulled over by police as she swerved in and out of her lane on Northern Boulevard in Manhasset Friday night, said that’s exactly what happened to her, according to court documents.

    After the 17-year-old from Glen Cove recorded a 0.15 percent blood-alcohol level in a portable breath test — nearly the twice the legal limit of 0.08 percent — she told the officer who pulled her over, “I didn’t drink! I was kissing a boy who was drunk,” according to the police report.

    Something tells me this isn’t going to work.

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