North Carolina Open Container Laws

It is a common myth that if you put an open container of alcohol in a brown bag, you can take it anywhere. While true in some places, laws in North Carolina prohibit carrying open containers of alcohol in public spaces or motor vehicles. Here is a 10,000-foot overview of the Old North State’s open container laws.

Public Places

The law on open containers in public places depends on alcohol type: 

Malt Beverages (Beer) and Unfortified Wine:

Open container regulation for this alcohol is made at the city or county level. Most cities, like Charlotte, prohibit carrying open containers on public streets, sidewalks, or trains. An open container violation is generally equivalent to a Class 3 misdemeanor but will depend on the specific local ordinance. 

Fortified Wine and Liquor/Spirits:

Open container laws for fortified wine and spirits are uniform across the state. Open containers are generally neverpermitted in public places (such as a public sidewalk) unless an establishment has a specific permit. An open container violation carries the penalty of a Class 1 misdemeanor statewide. 

Motor Vehicles

Whether the vehicle is in motion or parked, it is illegal to carry an open container of alcohol in the passenger area of a vehicle in North Carolina. An open container is any container with a broken seal, such as a beer bottle with its cap off. The “passenger area” is any area of the car where someone could be seated, as well as the glove compartment. The person who has the open container will be ticketed, not the driver (unless he is the one deemed to be in possession of the container).

If you plan to transport an open container of alcohol, it must be kept in the trunk (or, in a car without a trunk, behind the back seats). There is an exception for taxis, limos, and motor homes that contain living quarters, but generally speaking, it is illegal to possess an open container of alcohol in a vehicle. 

A first offense is a class 3 misdemeanor and repeat offenses are class 2 misdemeanors. 

If you find yourself in need of assistance, Attorney Cotten can help. He has served hundreds of clients through Wake, Johnston, Harnett, Orange, Sampson, Lee, and Chatham Counties and is ready to meet with you to discuss your case. Give him a call or head to the main page to speak with a legal assistant 24 hours a day.