What You Should Know About Arkansas Open Container Laws

What You Should Know About Arkansas Open Container Laws

Up until early 2017, Arkansas stood among a select group of states permitting open containers of beer or liquor in vehicles during travel. However, in 2020, open container laws Arkansas aligned itself with 43 other states in prohibiting the possession of an open alcoholic beverage, whether it’s a beer bottle, can, flask, or any other receptacle for alcohol, while driving or riding. This legal restriction, in accordance with the US Department of Transportation, encompasses alcohol containing a minimum of one-half of one percent alcohol by volume. It’s important to note that for an infraction to occur, there must be actual alcohol within the container; the mere presence of the scent of alcohol doesn’t constitute a violation.

What is the Open Container Law in Arkansas?

Section 5-71-218 of the Arkansas Code establishes the state’s open container regulations, a set of laws that were introduced relatively recently in 2017. These regulations encompass situations where individuals can potentially run afoul of the law:

  • Carrying an open container that contains any amount of alcohol while inside the vehicle, and this container is located within either the driver’s seat or the passenger’s seat area of the automobile;
  • Being present on a public highway or within the right-of-way of a public highway, where an open container is readily accessible to either the driver or a passenger while they are seated.

These provisions serve to maintain the safety and orderliness of Arkansas’ roadways by addressing the presence of open containers of alcohol in vehicles and within close reach of individuals on public thoroughfares.

What Counts as an Open Container?

In the context of Arkansas’ open container regulations, the term “open container” encompasses a wide range of alcohol containers that meet specific criteria. An open container is defined as any container of alcohol that displays evidence of a broken seal, has been previously unsealed, or has had some of its contents consumed. This classification encompasses various scenarios, including instances where you might encounter a re-corked bottle of wine or a partially depleted handle of tequila.

Understanding the nuances of these regulations becomes crucial for individuals navigating the legal landscape in the state of Arkansas. Familiarity with these rules is not only advisable but essential to ensure compliance and avoid potential legal consequences stemming from open container violations within the state. It serves as a fundamental component of responsible and law-abiding behavior for those in Arkansas.

Arkansas Open Container Laws

In accordance with Arkansas Code ยง 5-71-218, individuals found with an open container in their vehicle could face a class C misdemeanor. This carries the potential for a 30-day jail term and fines of up to $500. Notably, this charge can apply to both drivers and passengers, potentially leading to multiple charges in a single vehicle. So, it’s crucial to be cautious about your company when on the road.

Comparatively, the consequences of a DWI conviction in Arkansas are far more severe. A drunk driving charge can result in a prolonged license suspension, mandatory alcohol education classes, and a significantly higher likelihood of incarceration along with substantial fines.

Interestingly, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that a significant majority of Americans support open container laws, even in states without such regulations. These laws primarily aim to reduce alcohol-related fatalities annually. Studies conducted by the NHTSA demonstrate a considerable drop in these numbers under the influence of these regulations.

Recently, Arkansas, which had been one of the few states lacking open container laws, introduced regulations in 2017 to address this issue. The newly established law now makes it illegal to possess an open container of alcohol in the following situations:

  • In the driver’s or passenger’s seat of a motor vehicle;
  • Within an area of the vehicle that is easily accessible to the driver or passenger.

It’s important to note that this open container law applies exclusively when the vehicle is located on a highway or public right of way.

An “alcoholic beverage” is legally defined as any of the following:

  • Beer or any similar fermented beverage containing 0.5% or more of alcohol by volume;
  • Wine with 0.5% or more of alcohol by volume;
  • Distilled spirits in any form.

Remarkably, even non-alcoholic beer falls under this definition, potentially leading to an open container violation.

What Constitutes an “Open” Container Under Arkansas Law

Arkansas law leaves no room for ambiguity when it comes to the definition of an “open container.” This term encompasses a broad range of containers, including bottles, cans, or any receptacles containing any amount of alcoholic beverage. What makes these containers “open” under the law? It’s quite straightforward: if the container is unsealed, has a broken seal, or its contents have been partially removed, it qualifies as an “open container” as per Arkansas statutes. This clear-cut definition aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of what constitutes a violation of open container regulations, emphasizing the importance of adhering to these rules while traveling on the state’s roads.

Exceptions to Open Container Laws

Open container laws come with their fair share of exceptions that every driver should be aware of. In certain situations, you are permitted to enjoy a drink within a vehicle primarily used for transporting passengers for compensation, including taxis, limousines, and buses. Moreover, if you find yourself within the cozy confines of a motorhome’s living quarters, you’re exempt from these regulations. It’s essential to keep in mind that these laws specifically pertain to vehicles traveling on public highways or on the shoulder. Thus, if you happen to face an open container charge while on private property, you might have a robust defense at your disposal.

Nonetheless, it’s crucial not to overlook the stringent DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) laws that govern the roads. If you’re caught behind the wheel when an officer approaches, you may still find yourself facing serious consequences. To err on the side of caution, placing a bottle in a locked glove box or console is generally deemed acceptable. However, the safest course of action is to stow it in the car trunk, hatchback, or securely in the bed of your pickup truck. Carrying a person in the bed of your truck typically doesn’t violate the statute, but the subject of keeping a person in the trunk of your car delves into a different legal conversation altogether.

You can legally have an open container of alcohol in the following ways:

  • In an area outside the passenger section of the motor vehicle, such as the trunk;
  • In a securely locked area of the motor vehicle, including a glove compartment or center console.

When it comes to vehicles without a designated trunk, there’s room for flexibility in how you store an open container of alcohol. You have the option to place it behind the last upright seat or in an area that is not commonly occupied by either the driver or passengers. This provision acknowledges the practical challenges posed by trunkless vehicles, offering a reasonable alternative for responsible alcohol transportation.

Usually, open container laws are quite comprehensive, encompassing not only drivers but also passengers in various situations. Nevertheless, there exist noteworthy exemptions to this standard. Passengers are legally allowed to have an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle primarily employed for transporting people for payment, like taxis, limousines, and buses. Furthermore, these lenient rules extend to passengers in motor homes, house trailers, or other recreational vehicles, subject to specific conditions being satisfied:

  • The open container must be located within the vehicle’s living quarters or in an area exclusively designated for passengers;
  • The open container should not be easily reachable by the driver.

Consider the Consequences Before You Drink

Before you even consider breaking the seal on that bottle of Apple Crown, it’s vital to recognize the potential legal consequences. Under the strict framework of Arkansas open container law, a violation can occur without taking a single sip or even catching a whiff of the alcohol’s aroma. While you might be tempted to seek a more lenient approach across the border in Mississippi, where drinking while driving is legally allowed, it’s essential to be mindful of the significantly higher rate of alcohol-related fatalities in that state.

If you or a loved one ever face legal issues related to open container violations, DWI, DUI, minor in possession, or public intoxication in the Fort Smith, Arkansas area, The Law Offices of David L. Powell stand ready to offer their expertise and support. You can reach out to them at 479-222-6773 to schedule a complimentary consultation. It’s worth noting that they are also licensed to practice in Oklahoma, providing comprehensive assistance in the region. Stay informed, make responsible choices, and prioritize safety on the road.

When it comes to violating Arkansas’s open container law, the repercussions can be significant. In such cases, the offense is classified as a Class C misdemeanor, which carries the potential for both legal and financial penalties. The maximum consequences include a jail term of up to 30 days and a hefty fine of $500. It’s crucial to recognize the gravity of these penalties, as they underscore the state’s commitment to maintaining safe roads and curbing alcohol-related incidents. Being informed about these potential consequences is essential for anyone navigating Arkansas’s open container regulations.


Arkansas takes a firm stance on open container regulations, enforcing strict prohibitions on the possession of alcohol within the reach of the driver or passengers. These laws are designed with a primary objective: to bolster road safety and mitigate the incidence of alcohol-related accidents. While the rules are stringent, it’s essential to understand that exceptions do exist, notably for specific scenarios like vehicles used for compensation and the living quarters of motorhomes.

In the event that you or a family member find yourselves entangled in legal issues pertaining to open container violations, DWI, DUI, minor in possession, or public intoxication in the Fort Smith, Arkansas area, The Law Offices of David L. Powell are a valuable resource. You can reach out to them at 479-222-6773 to secure a complimentary consultation. Remember, the choices you make regarding alcohol in a vehicle carry significant implications for both your safety and legal standing, emphasizing the importance of informed decision-making.

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