All California drivers are prohibited from having open containers of alcohol in the vehicle while driving. If you are under 21, however, the rules are much tougher—you cannot have alcohol in your vehicle at all, even if it is still sealed. This is similar to the laws against underage possession of alcohol, but the consequences are much more serious when a vehicle is involved.
The law does provide some exceptions to this rule:
- If a parent is present. If you are under 21 and your parent is in the car, you can drive with alcohol in the vehicle. The alcohol must still be sealed and unopened, or else stowed in the trunk where no one in the vehicle can reach it.
- If your parent gave you permission. If your parent or guardian specifically asked you to take a case of beer to a relative’s house, for example, you are allowed to transport it. Again, all containers must be completely unopened and stowed.
- If it’s your job. If you have a part-time job at a restaurant and are asked to drive some bottles of wine from one location to another, this is legal. As long as your job specifically involves transporting alcohol, and all other laws are followed, it’s okay.
What are the penalties for transporting alcohol under 21?
You will likely be charged under California Vehicle Code 23224. VC 23224 is a misdemeanor criminal offense, not just a traffic ticket. The penalties for this offense include:
- Up to 6 months in jail
- A fine of up to $1,000
- Having your license suspended for 1 year (or, if you don’t yet have a driver’s license, having it delayed by up to 1 year)
- Your car may be impounded for up to 30 days
How do transporting alcohol under 21, open container laws, and DUI go together?
Technically, VC 23224 is separate from DUI laws. A perfectly sober driver can be convicted of possessing alcohol in a vehicle if they are under 21 years of age. However, any alcohol in the vehicle will generally make police suspicious and cause them to investigate a potential DUI. This is often when they will ask the driver to take a breath test. If you are under 21, you must comply with this request.
Additionally, any sign of alcohol in the vehicle may cause police to request that all underage passengers take a breath test as well. This could lead to consequences for everyone in the vehicle.
Finally, if you are under 21 and you have any amount of alcohol in your system—even .01% BAC, the smallest amount that can be measured—you could face penalties for underage drinking and driving.
Just because you are charged does not mean you will be convicted. It is possible to fight and win both a DUI charge and a VC 23224 charge.
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