Nearly every U.S. state has some form of open container law. The basic principle behind the law is that it’s illegal for vehicle occupants to consume alcohol or have an open container of an alcoholic beverage while inside a vehicle. Some states only prohibit drivers from possessing an open container, while other ban both drivers and passengers.
Where does Tennessee lie in this?
Drivers penalized for open containers
According to state law, it’s illegal for drivers to drink or possess an open container filled with an alcoholic beverage while operating a motor vehicle. The offense is a Class C misdemeanor.
The law notably doesn’t penalize passengers in possession of liquor. However, an open container that’s not held by any vehicle occupant and isn’t located in a closed compartment (like a glovebox, trunk, or other nonpassenger area of a vehicle) is considered in the driver’s possession, per Tennessee law.
State law also considers a vehicle in operation if its engine is running, whether it’s moving or not. This means drivers can still face charges for possessing an open container even if their car is on the side of the road, as long as their engine is on.
The penalties for open containers
If a court convicts a person of violating the open container law, the penalty is a fine of up to $50. By law, the offense is punishable by fine only.
But a driver caught holding an alcoholic beverage may also face charges for driving under the influence (DUI), where a conviction can lead to fines and jail time. A first DUI offense conviction carries up to 11 months and 29 days of county jail time.
Tennessee’s open container laws prohibit only drivers from drinking or holding alcoholic beverages. However, the rules are still very strict and particular about who possesses the container and when a vehicle is in operation. Drivers must also keep in mind that if an officer catches them with liquor in hand, they might have to undergo field sobriety or chemical tests for a suspected DUI.