What Is California’s Open Container Law?

In the State of California, it is illegal to drink alcohol or possess an open container of alcohol in your vehicle – and regarding the latter situation, it doesn’t matter whether you are actually consuming it. 

If you have been injured in a car accident in San Diego involving an open container, it is important to seek out experienced legal help as soon as possible. An experienced attorney can help you navigate the complex legal system and fight for your rights and interests.

What Is an Open Container?

An open container is a container of alcohol that can be consumed immediately. This includes cans, bottles, flasks, cups, and glasses – anything that has or could have had alcohol in it. It also includes open wine bottles. If there is any evidence that the contents of the container have been ingested, such as an empty bottle or can, it will also be considered an open container. 

To be considered open, the lid doesn’t have to be off; it just means that the “seal” has been broken, it has been opened, or it has been at least partially consumed.

You Can Transport Alcohol If You Do So Appropriately 

Open container laws don’t mean you can never transport open containers of alcohol back home or to a friend’s house; it’s perfectly legal, for example, to take wine home from a restaurant as long as you follow the rules. 

You must transport the open alcohol in a locked compartment or trunk. It cannot be stored within a passenger or driver’s reach. This rule is designed to prevent open containers of alcohol in the car where they can be accessed by drivers or passengers. As long as you follow these simple rules, you can enjoy taking your favorite bottle of wine home from a California restaurant. 

Penalties for Open Container Violations in California

If caught with an open container, you will be issued a ticket and required to pay a fine of up to $250. You may also receive points on your driving record. Although the penalties for an open container are relatively minor, it is important to be aware of the law so you can avoid any potential complications. If the violation causes the death of another person, the offender will be fined and ordered to serve community service. 

If you are under the legal drinking age of 21, you can be subject to more serious penalties. Fines can reach up to $1,000, you may be required to perform community service, your driving privileges could be suspended for up to one year, and you can be charged with a criminal offense for underage possession of alcohol. This could lead to 6 months in county jail.

Civil Lawsuits as a Result of Open Container Violations

When someone violates an open container law in California and causes an accident as a result, a San Diego car accident lawyer may be able to help you obtain damages by showing that the other party was negligent. To prove negligence, the plaintiff must prove the following four elements:


The first element of negligence is duty. The plaintiff must show that the defendant owed them a duty of care. When driving, all people have a duty to behave in a way that avoids harming others on the road. In the case of open container violations, the defendant has a duty to not consume alcohol in their car or transport open containers of alcohol in their vehicle. 


The second element of negligence is breach. This means that the defendant breached their duty of care by failing to act appropriately. In the case of open container violations, the breach occurs when the defendant consumes or transports open containers of alcohol in their vehicle. 


Next, the plaintiff must prove causation, both factual and proximate. In the case of an open container, causation is typically proven by showing that the defendant’s possession of an open container of alcohol led to the plaintiff’s injuries – for example, they were drinking while driving or were reaching for the container, which caused an accident.


Finally, the plaintiff must provide evidence of damages. This means that the plaintiff must have suffered some type of harm because of the defendant’s actions. Damages can be physical, emotional, and financial in nature. 

If you have been injured by someone who violated an open container law in California, you deserve compensation for your damages. Our San Diego car accident attorneys can help. Contact Mission Personal Injury Lawyers today to schedule a free consultation.

Contact the San Diego Car Accident Law Firm of Mission Personal Injury Lawyers Today To Get More Information

If you’ve been injured in a car accident in San Diego or Chula Vista, please call Mission Personal Injury Lawyers for a free case evaluation with a personal injury lawyer or contact us online.

We proudly serve San Diego County and throughout California.

Mission Personal Injury Lawyers
2515 Camino del Rio S Suite 350, San Diego, CA 92108

(619) 777-5555

Mission Personal Injury Lawyers – Chula Vista Office
690 Otay Lakes Rd #130, Chula Vista, CA 91910
(619) 722-3032

We also serve the state of Texas. Contact our personal injury law office in El Paso for legal assistance today.

Mission Personal Injury Lawyers – El Paso Office
201 E Main Suite 106, El Paso, Texas 79901
(915) 591-1000