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DUI 101: Open Container Laws in Iowa

Iowa’s open container laws prohibit drivers and passengers from possessing open alcohol containers in a motor vehicle. However, some areas of the vehicle are allowed for the legal use of placing open containers of alcohol in certain types of vehicles. Below, we discuss an overview of the open container law in Iowa as well as the consequences of violating the law.

Open Container Laws in Iowa

Under Iowa Code Section 321.284, it is illegal for a driver or passenger to possess an open container of alcohol in the passenger area of a motor vehicle that’s on a public street or highway in Iowa.

What Is Considered an "Open Container?"

An “open container” is any open or unsealed bottle, can, jar, or other receptacle that contains an alcoholic beverage. The “passenger area” is the area where the driver and passengers sit while the motor vehicle is in operation, which also includes the glove compartment, center console, and any other area in the vehicle that is readily accessible to the driver or a passenger while they’re seated.

Exceptions to the Law

While it is illegal to have an open alcohol container readily accessible to drivers or passengers, there are areas of the vehicle that are okay to keep open alcohol containers. Simply placing an open container on the floorboard of the back seat of the vehicle is, in most cases, illegal. However, an open container can be kept in the trunk of the vehicle or behind the last upright seat for vehicles without a trunk.

Open container laws apply to both drivers and passengers. However, there is an exception — the law doesn’t apply to passengers that are in a vehicle used for the transportation of people for compensation. Passengers can legally possess an open container of alcohol in the living area of a motor home, manufactured or mobile home, travel trailer, or fifth-wheel trailer. A party bus or limousine would also be acceptable to have open containers of alcohol.

Penalties for Open Containers

An open container violation is a simple misdemeanor with a scheduled violation fine of $200. If a driver gets an open container conviction, it will be considered a moving violation and add points to their driver’s record. A simple misdemeanor charge means violators can carry up to 30 days in the county jail. Open container violations are handled as scheduled violations only, which means a fine.

Penalties for Underage Drivers

People under 21 years old that have an open container in their passenger area may also be charged for being a minor in possession of alcohol. They can be convicted of “possessing alcohol under the legal age” (PAULA), which is a simple misdemeanor punishable as a scheduled violation.

The first offense is punishable by a fine of $200, and the second offense is punishable by a fine of $500. Second offenders also have to choose between having their license revoked for up to one year or completing a substance abuse evaluation. A third offense is punishable by a fine of $500 and a suspension of their license for up to one year.

The court may order someone underage to perform community service instead of paying a fine if the judge believes that it will deter the violator and discourage others from participating in similar activities.

Speak to a West Des Moines Attorney

If you have received an open container violation, consult with a skilled West Des Moines criminal defense attorney today. Violating Iowa’s open container law can result in unwanted marks on your record, which makes it essential to work with an attorney from Hope Law Firm. Our team can help you navigate the complex legal system in Iowa.

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Call (515) 298-5056 or reach out to us online today if you need help with an open container violation.