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One of the tenets of car safety involves never operating a car while impaired. If you get stopped by the police, have an accident while driving drunk, or even with an open container of alcohol, you could face cancellation of your automobile insurance, substantial fines, revocation of your driver’s license, and/or jail time. But what about non-alcoholic beer? Is it legal to drink it while driving?

General laws regarding drunk driving and open alcohol containers

According to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), all states consider operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol level above 0.08% a crime. Utah’s limit is the lowest in the nation at 0.05%. While punishment for each offense varies by state, 48 states issue administrative driver’s license suspension on the first offense. Additionally, all 50 states mandate various ignition interlock programs that prevent the operation of a convicted drunk driver’s car if the system detects alcohol on their breath. 

Forbes says “open container laws” make it illegal to have an open container of alcohol in the passenger area of a vehicle that you are operating, even if you’re below the legal limit or not drinking at all. An open container doesn’t have to be a half-full whiskey bottle to cause legal problems. Other examples of open alcohol containers include:

  • Beer cans
  • Wine bottles
  • Flasks containing any alcoholic beverage
  • Any other type of container holding alcohol 

As a result, the Alcohol Policy Information System (APIS) says open container laws apply to any container that holds or has ever held any alcoholic beverage. Including empty containers, even those in trash bags destined for the recycling center. 

What states have looser open container laws?

Los Angeles DUI Attorney says the following states allow open containers in the passenger compartment of a motor vehicle while driving:

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Rhode Island
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia

Some of those states, like Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Missouri, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Virginia, even allow passengers, although not the driver, to consume alcohol while the vehicle is in operation. 

Sources like Way and Insurance Navy indicate that drinking non-alcoholic beer before and while driving a car is acceptable and even legal. However, they caution that law enforcement may still pull you over if they see you drinking from a can or bottle that resembles an alcoholic variety. So, it’s better to avoid drinking even non-alcoholic beer while driving, but it’s an acceptable alternative before getting behind the wheel as long as you don’t overindulge.

Some non-alcoholic beers can contain up to 0.5% alcohol by volume (ABV). While that’s much lower than traditional beer, which typically has around 5% ABV, drinking large quantities of “near-beer” could raise your blood alcohol content enough to qualify you as impaired. 

Ultimately, drunk driving and open container laws aim to keep people safe. So, do your part, don’t drink and drive, and don’t let your friend drive drunk. They will thank you later.