Understanding South Carolina’s Open Container Law Easily

South Carolina strictly prohibits open containers of alcohol in vehicles traveling on public roads. This longstanding law aims to promote safety on the state’s highways by cracking down on drinking and driving.

The legislation bans drivers and passengers from possessing open bottles or cans of beer, wine, and other alcoholic beverages while in a motor vehicle on a public highway. Violators face fines, possible jail time, and other legal consequences.

Understanding the specifics of South Carolina’s open container statute is critical for all motorists in the state. This article will provide a comprehensive overview of the law, including its purpose, scope, exceptions, penalties, and potential defenses.

Detailed Overview of the South Carolina’s Open Container Law

South Carolina’s open container law, Section 61-4-110 of the State Code, makes it illegal for both drivers and passengers to have open containers of beer, wine, or other alcoholic liquors within the passenger area of a vehicle while on public highways.

An “open container” refers to any bottle, can, or other receptacle containing an alcoholic beverage that is open or has a broken seal. The law aims to prevent motorists from drinking while driving by cracking down on open booze inside moving vehicles.

The open container prohibition applies to all areas within the passenger compartment of a motor vehicle, including areas readily accessible to the driver or any other passengers. The only exceptions, detailed later, are for areas not reachable by the driver like a trunk or locked glove compartment.

This law covers all public highways in South Carolina, including interstate highways, state roads, county roads, and city streets. It applies to all motor vehicles designed to transport people, including cars, trucks, vans, and motorcycles.

The open container ban is in effect 24/7 statewide. It makes no difference whether the vehicle is actually in motion or parked on a public road with the engine off. The mere presence of an open container in the passenger area constitutes a violation.

Exceptions to South Carolina’s Open Container Law

While South Carolina’s open container statute is strict, it does include a few exceptions.

Passengers (not the driver) are permitted to possess open containers in certain areas of a vehicle that are not readily accessible. Allowed areas include:

  • The trunk
  • A locked glove compartment
  • The living quarters of a motorhome or RV
  • A luggage compartment
  • A section behind the last upright seat of a vehicle not equipped with a trunk

In addition, the law does not apply to vehicles that are:

  • Making deliveries of alcoholic beverages in sealed containers
  • Transporting sealed containers of liquor from manufacturers to wholesalers
  • Parked off the traveled portion of the highway for non-traffic purposes

There are also exceptions for special events like concerts or festivals with proper traffic control measures in place. Open containers are allowed in vehicles at these designated locations:

  • Official campsites or camping areas
  • Private or leased property outside municipal city limits
  • Designated picnic, tailgating, or spectator areas
  • Other specifically designated areas with an event license

Passengers are also permitted to consume alcohol on vehicles for hire, such as limousines or party buses, if allowed by the hiring company.

Overall, while the open container law is strict, there are some narrow exceptions to provide flexibility in certain circumstances. But it’s critical to understand exactly where open booze is permitted before assuming your situation qualifies for an exception.

Exceptions to South Carolina’s Open Container Law

Penalties for Violating South Carolina’s Open Container Statute

Those who break the law by possessing prohibited open containers in a motor vehicle face escalating legal penalties in South Carolina.

For a first offense, the penalty is a fine up to $100. For a second open container offense, the fine increases to up to $200, or up to 30 days in jail. The penalties jump for a third or subsequent violation – a fine up to $300, or up to 45 days incarceration.

In addition to fines and jail time, a judge may suspend the offender’s driver’s license for multiple open container convictions.

The same penalties apply both for simply possessing an illegal open container, and for transporting containers of liquor with broken seals outside areas exempted by law.

If an offender fails to pay the fines associated with an open container citation, law enforcement may seize their vehicle. The car or truck can be impounded until the owed fines are paid.

Violations of the open container law are classified as misdemeanors under South Carolina state law. A misdemeanor criminal record can have consequences for future employment, housing, child custody, and other aspects of life.

Local Open Container Ordinances

In addition to statewide rules, many local cities and counties in South Carolina have their own open container ordinances. These local laws may be even more stringent than the statewide statute.

For example, the City of Columbia prohibits open containers or public consumption of alcohol anywhere on public property, punishable by up to a $500 fine. The City of Charleston also bans open containers in public spaces.

Many beach communities like Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head Island also prohibit open containers of alcohol when not on private property or a licensed premise.

Some towns do allow exceptions for special events like festivals, but only with proper permitting and control measures in place. Savannah, for example, allows open containers in certain parts of its historic district during celebrations.

It’s critical for both residents and visitors to understand their local open container rules in addition to the statewide law. Possession of an open container may be perfectly legal on private property, while just steps away could be a violation if on a public sidewalk or beach.

Legal Assistance and Defense

Any individual charged with violating South Carolina’s open container statute should immediately consult with an experienced local criminal defense attorney. A lawyer can review the exact circumstances of the case and build the strongest possible defense.

There are several potential defenses to an open container citation:

  • Lack of knowledge: The driver or passenger was unaware of the open booze in the vehicle. This is difficult to prove but may apply in some circumstances.
  • Accessibility: The container was in a permitted area like the trunk not accessible to the driver. If there is evidence to support this claim, the charge may be dismissed.
  • Private property: The alleged violation occurred on private property, not a public highway.
  • Non-alcoholic beverage: Chemical testing shows the liquid in the container had no alcohol content.
  • Invalid traffic stop: The officer lacked valid legal grounds for the original traffic stop, making any subsequent open container charge invalid.

In addition to seeking complete dismissal, an attorney may be able to plea bargain charges down to a non-moving violation or littering citation to minimize consequences.

drivers and passengers in South Carolina should understand and adhere to the open container regulations at all times to avoid legal jeopardy.


South Carolina has a strong open container law banning drivers and passengers from possessing open beer, wine, liquor, and other alcoholic beverages in motor vehicles on public highways. Violations lead to escalating fines, possible jail time, and a misdemeanor record.

While there are limited exceptions permitting open containers in certain locked or partitioned areas not accessible to the driver, the general rule remains that booze must be sealed shut and out of reach within a vehicle on public roads.

Many local jurisdictions have additional open container rules, so it’s critical to be aware of your local ordinances in addition to statewide law. Never assume open containers are allowed just because you don’t see a posted sign.

With severe penalties on the line, from fines to license suspensions, it’s vital that all motorists in South Carolina – whether residents or visitors – strictly adhere to the state’s open container statute. The safest policy is keeping all alcoholic beverages sealed and packed away while operating a vehicle on public highways.