‘Tis the season for tailgating, and so ’tis the season for open container violations. I thought you might like to know what you can and can’t do in terms of public alcohol consumption.
In terms of a motor vehicle in the State of Georgia, an open container means any bottle, can, or other receptacle that: Contains any amount of alcoholic beverage; and is open or has a broken seal; or the contents of which are partially removed. You can’t consume any alcoholic beverage; or possess any open alcoholic beverage container. “Passenger area” means the area designed to seat the driver and passengers while a motor vehicle is in operation and any area that is readily accessible to the driver or a passenger while in his or her seating position; provided, however, that such term does not include any locked glove compartment or, in a passenger car not equipped with a trunk, any area behind the rearmost upright seat or not normally occupied by the driver or passengers. See O.C.G.A. 40-6-253. In other, simpler words, you can open and reseal your bottle of vodka and drive it from point a to point b if you put it in the trunk or the locked glove compartment, or, if you don’t have a trunk, out of reach behind the back seat
All that does not count if you are in a motor home, trailer, RV, or limo.
Most open container laws, however, are county or city ordinances, so make sure you know the particular laws for where you are. Since we are in Bulldog country, I’ll go over the laws in Athens/Clarke County, home of UGA.
Athens adds to the state of Georgia’s definition of open container by including alcohol that isn’t in its original container. You aren’t allowed to have an open container “while on the public streets, sidewalks, or rights of way or in any public or semipublic parking facility within Athens-Clarke County, Georgia.” Ordinance 6-3-8. Semipublic parking facilities are facilities that are privately owned, but open to the public, like a parking lot attached to a business. There are exceptions for special events that have a permit, and for sidewalk cafes, if the café is otherwise licensed to sell alcohol. And – here’s the biggie – there is an exemption for any property “Owned by the Board of Regents of the State of Georgia.” That’s how you get your huge parking lot tailgating parties with no open container violations.
If you are a Georgia Tech or Georgia State fan, the City of Atlanta’s laws are somewhat different. According to the City of Atlanta Municipal Ordinance, you can’t drink while you are on a street, sidewalk, alleyway, parking area, or other open area operated by the city, or while in or on any MARTA property. You can’t drink in a city park except during an outdoor festival which has a permit. There is a specific exception for convention centers, sports coliseums, and golf pro shops. A sports coliseum is “premises operated exclusively for the purpose of providing major league sporting events of basketball, hockey or similar athletic or amusement events for attendance by the public and where such premises contain a minimum of 3,000 square feet.” There are tons of other exceptions that can be found here.
Of course, whether or not you are allowed to legally drink, there are laws against public intoxication. The state law says, “A person who shall be and appear in an intoxicated condition in any public place or within the curtilage of any private residence not his own other than by invitation of the owner or lawful occupant, which condition is made manifest by boisterousness, by indecent condition or act, or by vulgar, profane, loud, or unbecoming language, is guilty of a misdemeanor.” In other words, it’s ok to have a drink in a public place and be silly with your friends, but don’t be a loud, mean, or angry drunk. Most cities, counties, and other municipalities have their own public intoxication ordinances, so make sure you know. That said, laws or no laws, there is no advantage to acting like a drunken fool in public, so whatever the law says, I can’t recommend it.
This article was written by a lawyer, but should not be considered legal advice in any way, shape, or form. It is written for general (and generally vague) informational purposes only. In order to properly evaluate your case, a lawyer must examine all the facts and circumstances that are particular and personal to your situation. I have not done that here.