Drinking and riding: can automobile passengers consume alcohol in Connecticut? The answer may surprise you.

As everyone should know, it is illegal to drive drunk, even in Wisconsin. In Connecticut and every state other than Mississippi, it is also illegal to operate a motor vehicle and imbibe at the same time. Section 53a-213 of the General Statutes makes that a C misdemeanor here in the Nutmeg State. Mississippi is the one state remaining in the country in which a person can drink and drive at the same time provided that he or she is not drunk.

But what about passengers? Can they legally drink in a car? In most states the answer is that they cannot. In Connecticut and a handful of other states, there is no state law prohibiting passenger alcohol consumption. That does not mean that everyone but the driver can be boozing it up on a car ride. It depends on where the car is being driven. Many cities and towns have ordinances against open containers on public roads and in public places. New Haven has such an ordinance: Sec. 18-39 of the Code of General Ordinances. Violations of ordinances are not criminal acts but may carry fines. Additionally, minor in possession laws are always applicable.

Whether it is allowed under the law or not, alcohol and cars do not mix. Drunk passengers may distract a driver and a car that looks like a party on wheels may attract police attention.

Christopher DeMatteo is an attorney who knows about alcoholic beverages, the law and alcohol law. He operates his own practice, DeMatteo Law LLC, 129 Church St, New Haven CT 06510 (203) 815-6299.

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