Last April, Ohio made it legal for restaurants and bars to sell alcoholic beverages with to-go food orders. As in other states where similar measures were taken, the goal was to help these struggling businesses stay operational.
In October, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed a bill into law that made the alcohol-to-go ordinance permanent. Under the law, customers can get up to three alcoholic beverages to go as long as they’re part of a food order. Establishments can sell only sealed drinks, and they can’t allow them to be consumed on their premises.
However, businesses with liquor licenses will be able to provide expanded outdoor areas where customers can legally consume those beverages. That provision of the law is set to end in December of 2022.
What’s an “open container” under Ohio law?
None of the changes affect the state law that addresses having an open container of alcohol in a vehicle. Under the law, it’s illegal to have an open container “while operating or being a passenger in or on a motor vehicle on any street, highway, or other public or private property open to the public for purposes of vehicular travel or parking.” There are exceptions for people riding in limousines where they’re in an area separate from the driver.
Any container that has been unsealed must be secured “in the trunk of a motor vehicle or, if the motor vehicle does not have a trunk, behind the last upright seat or in an area not normally occupied by the driver or passengers and not easily accessible by the driver.” It’s also wise to put any sealed drinks you get from a restaurant where they can’t be reached and opened by anyone in the vehicle.
While having an open container is in itself against the law, the bigger danger is the potential it offers for drunk driving. Just as it’s hard to resist reaching over and grabbing a French fry out of a fast food meal, it can be hard to resist prying open that sealed daiquiri and taking a sip (or finish off the drink) if you’re stuck in traffic.
If you’re facing drunk driving charges, it’s essential to understand the effect a conviction could have on your life. Don’t plead guilty without first understanding your rights and determining what defense options you might have.