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The science is pretty clear: Alcohol slows your reaction time and inhibits your judgment, making you more dangerous behind the wheel of your car or truck. So you might be shocked to hear that you can legally drive down the road with an open beer in your car or truck in 11 states. In some of these states, a vehicle’s passengers can drink, but not the driver. But in all 50 states, it’s illegal to drive when your blood alcohol content gets to 0.08%.

Which states allow your passengers to drink while you drive?

In Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Mississippi, Missouri, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Virginia, your passengers can drink alcohol while you drive down the road. Residents of other states may be shocked by this law, but it doesn’t change the fact that the driver cannot be drinking.

A land cruiser FJ40 bumper wiht a can of beer set atop it.
Beer on a bumper | Jay Miller via Unsplash

In Virginia, if a passenger has a beer in their cupholder, police can ask the driver to prove that they are not drinking. In Arkansas and West Virginia, your passengers can “possess” open containers but cannot be drinking them. For example: they could have started a bottle of wine during a picnic, and then put the cork back in to take it home.

Laws around passengers drinking may have been looser in other parts of the country. But in 1998, the Federal Government offered all the states extra funding if they outlawed open containers in moving vehicles.

Which states allow you to drink while you drive?

The state of Louisiana allows you to drink while you are driving. But you cannot be over the legal blood alcohol limit (0.08%) while you are operating a motor vehicle.

A man watched the sunset from the bumper of his station wagon while holding a beer.
Drinking on a bumper | Robson Hatsukami Morgan via Unsplash

Yes, you can legally be drinking from a beer in your cupholder while driving on a public highway in Louisiana. The state’s permissive law is the last of its kind in the country. It opens up entire industries residents of other states wouldn’t expect. For example, New Orleans is known for its drive-through Margarita stands.

The state of Louisiana has similarly permissive open container laws while you are walking around on public streets. But it does have laws against being visibly intoxicated in public; drinkers better behave themselves. Individual municipalities may also pass their own laws against open containers. So if you are planning a trip to Louisiana, it’s important to look up the local guidelines.

Can you drive with a beer or cocktail from a restaurant?

Times are a-changing. During the COVID-19 quarantine, 39 states allowed restaurants to sell alcohol to-go. At least 17 of those states have made these more permissive laws permanent. These laws don’t change the rules around open-containers in cars, but they do make enforcing them more difficult.

Man holds up a beer while standing in front of a Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser SUV.
Drinking by a Toyota Land Cruiser | Jay Miller via Unsplash

An “open container” of alcohol is defined as any bottle, can, etc., with its original seal broken. The intent is that a police officer can look at a “sealed container” and know that no one in the vehicle has been drinking from it. But some restaurants are pouring cocktails into to-go cups, putting some tape over the straw hole, and deeming them “sealed.” In truth, they may not be “sealed” enough to get you through a traffic stop.

If you decide to fill up a half-growler of beer in a brewery, putting the unsealed bottle in your cupholder for the drive home is not a great idea.

Some restaurants sell home cocktail “kits” with alcohol and other mixers sealed into plastic bags. Others are canning cocktails to sell. Either of these tamper-proof seals has a better chance of not getting you in trouble. But it is never a bad idea to lock alcohol in your trunk while you transport it, so there’s no question whether you were drinking it.

Next, find out the surprising number of states that allow you to ride in the bed of a pickup truck, or learn more about open container laws in the video below: