As licensed drivers in California, it’s important that we understand the laws. We need to know about the state’s driving under the influence laws. We need to know the state’s open container laws, and we need to know when it’s illegal to transport alcohol, even if it’s in a sealed container in the trunk of the vehicle.
For all licensed drivers and passengers, it’s illegal to drive or be in a motor vehicle with an open container of alcohol under sections 23223(a) and (b) of the California Vehicle Code. But what about “sealed” bottles of alcohol that have never been opened? That must be legal, especially considering the fact that people buy alcohol at places like Costco, Trader Joe’s, Total Wine & More, BevMo!, and Lee’s Discount Liquor.
What the Law Says About Sealed Bottles
If a driver is 21 years-of-age or older, it’s perfectly legal for him or her to do a “wine run” at the local Trader Joe’s or liquor store and drive home with sealed bottles of alcohol in the trunk of their car or the back of their SUV, van or truck. If the driver is under the age of 21, it’s a different story.
Section 23224(a) prohibits drivers under the age of 21 from knowingly transporting alcoholic beverages in their vehicle, unless the young driver is accompanied by one of the following individuals:
- A parent,
- A responsible adult family member,
- Another adult who is assigned by the parent, or
- A legal guardian who knows alcohol is being transported.
If the driver is under 21 and he or she is employed at a company that is licensed under the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act, and the young driver is driving a motor vehicle during the course of their employment and during normal business hours, he or she may have a valid defense if they are driving under the “reasonable instructions” of their employer “relating to the disposition of the alcoholic beverage,” according to Sec. 23224(a).
Avoid Driving With Alcohol
Essentially, drivers under the age of 21 should NOT drive with any alcohol in their vehicle unless they’re driving with a parent, legal guardian, or responsible adult relative. If the young driver is alone or driving with their friends, they should avoid transporting alcohol, period. If a driver under the age of 21 violates Section 23224, they face misdemeanor charges, up to a $1,000 fine, or up to six months in jail, or a fine and imprisonment.