The Open Container Laws in Colorado and How to Understand Them

Open container laws are one of the many ways in which authorities try to manage drunk driving in Colorado. While being convicted of a DUI is a much more serious offense, violating open container laws will still result in criminal activity being placed on your record. As well as this, you will face a traffic infraction and fine since open container violations are classified as low-level crimes.

If you’re driving on the roads in Colorado, it pays to be aware of the open container laws so that you can avoid having criminal activity placed on your record. Open container laws in Colorado concern when and where you can have open containers of alcohol and/or marijuana in both your vehicle and public spaces.

1. What is an open container, according to the open container laws?

The first thing to be aware of is that the law does not need a container to be completely open for it to be considered an “open container”.

Pursuant to Colorado’s open container laws

  • A container is any bottle, can, or another type of receptacle that contains any amount of alcoholic beverage or marijuana
  • An open container is a container with a broken seal
  • A container that has had its contents partially removed

However, for a violation for possession of an open marijuana container to occur, there must also be evidence that marijuana was consumed inside the vehicle.

2. Which situations do open container laws apply to?

In Colorado, the open container laws can be split into 3 categories:

Category 1 – All open containers or consumption of alcohol or marijuana in a vehicle.

Category 2 – Containers or bottles that contain alcohol and have been removed from restaurants when partially consumed.

Category 3 – When alcohol is being consumed in designated areas where alcohol consumption is permitted

3. Open containers in your vehicle

As defined in category 1, the open container laws apply to all open containers of alcohol or marijuana in a vehicle and/or the consumption of the alcohol or marijuana in a vehicle.

According to Colorado’s open container laws, the driver of the vehicle cannot consume—or have in their possession—an open alcoholic beverage while the vehicle is in motion. This also applies to the passenger area of a car, and anyone who might be in it.

The passenger area:

  • INCLUDES seating areas and any area that is readily accessible from these areas (like the glove compartment, for example)
  • DOES NOT INCLUDE the trunk or the area behind the last seat (for vehicles without a trunk).

Alcoholic beverages include:

  • Distilled spirits (whiskey, vodka, tequila)
  • Wine
  • Beer (and other fermented beverages)

A Motor vehicle includes:

  • A motor vehicle that is designed primarily for travel on public roads, and
  • A motor vehicle that is, or is not, within the motion

Violations of the open container laws are traffic infractions, and if the driver was under the influence then more serious criminal penalties apply.