While the initials used to refer to drunk driving differ, all states mandate laws to combat intoxicated driving. Iowa calls drunk driving OWI, or operating while intoxicated. Drivers in West Des Moines, Iowa, know that it’s illegal to operate vehicles under the influence, but they may not know the law regarding open containers.
Overview of open container laws
Iowa Code 321.284 makes it illegal for a driver or a passenger to possess an open container of alcohol in the passenger area. This refers to any area of the vehicle designated for drivers and passengers while the vehicle is in motion. The law defines container as any unsealed receptacle holding alcohol, such as bottles, cans or jars.
There are a few exceptions to Iowa’s open container OWI law depending on the area and type of vehicle. The law typically does not include vehicles that commercially transport passengers for compensation. It is also legal to place open containers in the trunk of a vehicle or in the rear of the last upright seat. Another exception to the open container law is the living areas of RVs, motor homes or travel trailers.
Penalties for open container violations
Violating the open container law commonly counts as a misdemeanor and moving violation that adds points to the driver’s license. Penalties for violating open container laws include a $200 fine and up to 30 days in jail. A second offense increases the fine to $500 and a one-year license suspension.
Drivers under 21 commonly face the same penalizes, but a PAULA offense, or possessing alcohol under legal age, could apply. Instead of fines, some judges give juvenile offenders the option of community service. Sometimes, an underage offender may get their record expunged after two years if they don’t get other convictions.
Many drivers think they have to accept DUI or OWI charges, but mistakes happen. Knowing exceptions to the law may help drivers defend against the charges.