US Department of Transportation Logo

Open Container Laws And
Alcohol Involved Crashes

NHTSA: People Saving People Logo

DOT HS 809 426

Some Preliminary Data

April 2002

Technical Documentation Page
Executive Summary
Purpose of Section 154
Open Container Law Incentives
Open Container Law Conformance Criteria
Status of Conformance: October 2000
Evaluation of the Effects of Open Container Laws

Public Opinion Concerning Open Container Laws
Appendix A: Data Tables

Table 1: Summary of Previous Open Container Laws In the First Four States to Enact Laws to Conform with TEA-21 Requirements

Figure 1: Percent of All Fatal Crashes That Were Alcohol-Involved: Six-Month Period After Enforcement Began Compared to the Same Period in the Previous Year

Figure 2: Nighttime Hit-and-Run Crashes: Six-Month Period After Enforcement Began Compared to the Same Period in the Previous Year

Figure 3: Percent of All Fatal Crashes That Were Alcohol-Involved

Figure 4: Percent of Residents Who Believe Their States Should Have An Open Container Law


This report presents the results of a study conducted for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to assess the highway safety effects of laws that prohibit open containers of alcoholic beverages to be located in the passenger compartment of motor vehicles operated on public roadways. These laws are commonly referred to as Open Container laws. 

Public Opinion Concerning  Open Container Laws 

NHTSA's most recent biennial National Survey of Drinking and Driving, conducted in 1999 by The Gallup Organization (Royal, 2000) included two questions concerning Open Container laws. The first question asked, “To the best of your knowledge, does your state have any law that makes it illegal to have an open container of alcohol inside a car while someone is driving?” The percentage of respondents who believed that their states had such laws ranged from a high of 95 percent to a low of 56 percent. Overall, 86 percent of the people surveyed believed their states to have Open Container laws, including a majority of those surveyed in states that did not have Open Container Laws at the time (i.e., 82% in CT, 76% in MS, 73% in LA, and 56% in WY). 

The second survey question asked, “Do you think your state should have this type of open container law?” The responses to this question are presented in Figure 4 according to the categories of states used in the previous analyses. The figure shows that more than 90 percent of respondents from states that had fully-conforming Open Container laws prior to the enactment of the TEA-21 Restoration Act, believed their states should have those laws. Similarly, 87 percent of the respondents from states that had enacted fully conforming laws between 22 July 1998 and 1 October 2000 and 86 percent of the respondents from states with partially-conforming laws as of 1 October 2000 agreed that Open Container laws are appropriate. Perhaps most important, more than 83 percent of the people surveyed in states without Open Container laws reported that their states should have Open Container laws. The data presented in the figure show support for Open Container laws by a vast majority of citizens, including the residents of states that lack Open Container laws.