Monday, June 27, 2011

Growlers in a car

Growlers have been around for a very long time in one form or another. In recent years they have gained a new popularity with the coming of brewpubs and bars that offer draft beer to go. A little tweet caught my eye on having growlers in one’s car between pub and home. As the Federal Government has resorted to a form of extortion in mandating the states to impose added restrictions on how you operate your car I felt comments on this were in order. The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (known as TEA-21) was enacted June 9, 1998 by congress. Although it is no longer in effect its damage continues. One aspect of this was the mandating to prohibit open containers of alcohol in vehicles. In a nut brown shell, it basically states:

Prohibit both possession of any open alcoholic beverage container and consumption of any alcoholic beverage.

Cover the passenger area of any motor vehicle, including unlocked glove compartments and any other areas of the vehicle that are readily accessible to the driver or passengers while in their seats.

Apply to all open alcoholic beverage containers and all alcoholic beverages, including beer, wine, and spirits that contain one-half of one percent or more of alcohol by volume.

Apply to all vehicle occupants except for passengers of vehicles designed, maintained or used primarily for the transportation of people for compensation (such as buses, taxi cabs, and limousines) or the living quarters of motor homes.

Apply to all vehicles on a public highway or the right-of-way (i.e. on the shoulder) of a public highway.

Require primary enforcement of the law, rather than requiring probable cause that another violation had been committed before allowing enforcement of the open container law.

So the question at hand is a growler an open container? I don’t know if this was specifically determined in court but it could be a matter of interpretation between you and the police officer writing you a ticket. In the true sense, an open container has no cap, lid, seal or anything else that would prevent the contents from coming out. No, fixing your mouth to a growler is not sealing it. Also in the true sense, a sealed container is one that was sealed after filling by the manufacturer and as such the seal needs to be broken to open. Twist-off caps usually indicate if it was twisted off. In the case of growlers it cannot be determined if the cap was ever removed other that seeing that the bottle is still full. Still, there is a legal point that can be made that a person has access to the contents more readily in a growler than if it were in a can or regular beer bottle. The fact that a growler can be opened in a car may be legal enough to receive a citation. Actually, the last sentence in this writing does restrict alcohol from a passenger compartment.

Four Sons brewpub in Western Pennsylvania used to sell growlers when they were in business. They applied the letter of the law when selling growlers. They would apply heat-shrink tape to the cap and neck to show that the container was “factory sealed” at the point of sale. This established a president of sorts, as local cops would have known that this was done. Had you been stopped and not had a “sealed” bottle they could argue that you had an open container. Now, I’m no lawyer and maybe I drink too much but I would not take the chance in having one in the passenger compartment of my car. If you are sober and have a short ride home is one thing. Having a few big brews and then taking some more home may be risk.

The actual prohibition to having any alcohol in the passenger compartment of a car comes from the Commonwealth.

Page 16 of 29 states:

§ 3809. Restriction on alcoholic beverages.

(a) General rule.--Except as set forth in subsection (b), an

individual who is an operator or an occupant in a motor vehicle

may not be in possession of an open alcoholic beverage container

or consume a controlled substance as defined in the act of April

14, 1972 (P.L.233, No.64), known as The Controlled Substance,

Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act, or an alcoholic beverage in a

motor vehicle while the motor vehicle is located on a highway in

this Commonwealth.

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