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Can a passenger’s open alcohol container endanger a motorist?

On Behalf of | Jan 4, 2024 | Uncategorized

It is illegal to drive while under the impairing influence of alcohol. Both those visibly affected by alcohol and those over the legal limit for their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) can face arrest and prosecution. Kansas also has laws against consuming alcohol in a vehicle.

Drivers cannot drink while operating a motor vehicle regardless of their BAC. The state enforces this rule by prohibiting open containers of alcohol in a moving motor vehicle. A driver with an open bottle of beer in their cup holder or wine in their water bottle could end up arrested for having an open intoxicant in the vehicle.

Is a driver at risk of prosecution if an open container of alcohol belongs to a passenger, not them?

Kansas is strict about alcohol rules

There are many scenarios that fall into what seems to be a legal gray area. If a passenger has alcohol in a cup or an open beer on the floor next to their feet, people might assume that the driver has protection from prosecution.

However, police officers could still potentially arrest them for the presence of an open container of alcohol in the vehicle. Technically, it is only legal to transport alcohol while still in the sealed containers provided by manufacturers. Additionally, they need to keep alcohol containers more than an arm’s length away from the driver and any passengers.

Prior cases in Kansas have established that alcohol within reach of the driver is theoretically in their possession. Therefore, open containers of alcohol held by a passenger could still be available to the driver while they operate the motor vehicle. Police officers who encounter these circumstances must use their own discretion when deciding if it is appropriate to arrest someone because a passenger had an open container of alcohol in the vehicle.

Many police officers decide to err on the side of caution and might arrest anyone caught with open containers in their vehicles, even if they try to claim that a container belongs to someone else. However, those facing alcohol-related offenses in Kansas can defend against those charges in many cases. Evaluating the state’s evidence with the assistance of a skilled attorney can help people develop a workable defense strategy for an alcohol-related criminal charge.