Question of the Day February 16, 2009
Click here to subscribe or unsubscribe from our various email lists
Q:My friends and I are flying out to Sin City in a month and need you to settle a small bet we have: I say it is against the law to have open alcohol containers in the vehicle and in public places such as on the Strip and downtown; my friends all say you can have open containers anywhere within city limits, even inside of a moving vehicle! Can you please tell us how the REAL law(s) read, and settle this bet once and for all?
A:Forty-three out of 50 U.S. states prohibit the possession of an open container of alcohol "in public," meaning on the street. Only seven states (Georgia, Louisiana, Virginia, Missouri, Montana, Pennsylvania, and our very own Nevada) have no state law that regulates possessing an open container of alcohol or consuming alcohol from an open container in public.
That said, Nevada most certainly does have a regulation concerning open alcohol containers in moving vehicles. This is defined by Nevada Revised Statute 484.448, a section of the traffic code:
"1. It is unlawful for a person to drink an alcoholic beverage while he is driving or in actual physical control of a motor vehicle upon a highway.
"2. Except as otherwise provided in this subsection, it is unlawful for a person to have an open container of an alcoholic beverage within the passenger area of a motor vehicle while the motor vehicle is upon a highway." [The "otherwise provided" has to do with "house coaches," meaning RVs, and horse trailers.]
Other than in a moving vehicle, Nevada law leaves the regulation of the possession and consumption of alcohol on the street up to the local municipalities.
Las Vegas city law allows the possession and consumption on the street of any alcoholic beverage in an open container (other than at particular times of the year -- see Las Vegas Municipal Code Sections 10.76.010-020 and 10.77.020-030).
Technically, the Las Vegas Strip doesn't fall within the city limits; rather, it's in an unincorporated area of Clark County. But the open-container law of the city applies to the Strip, though it's even more lax there. Those times of the year that open containers are prohibited in the rest of Las Vegas don't apply to the Las Vegas Strip, where open containers are permitted at all times of the year, though the containers must be plastic, not glass, for certain special events, such as the 4th of July and New Year’s Eve.
Thus, we declare the bet with your friends as a push. You're right that open containers are prohibited in moving vehicles*. Your friends are right that open containers are allowed on the street.
However, you, your friends, and everyone reading this should note that Las Vegas' lax open-container policy gives no one permission to be intoxicated in public. Many a partier who took the container law too far has spent the night sobering up behind bars -- the vertical kind. So use common sense and be careful out there. The life you save might be mine.
*There are exceptions to this rule, too, however. According to Nevada’s open container law (NRS 484.448), it's "unlawful for a person to drink an alcoholic beverage while he is driving or in actual physical control of a motor vehicle upon a highway" or "for a person to have an open container of an alcoholic beverage within the passenger area of a motor vehicle while the motor vehicle is upon a highway." However, this law exempts "a motor vehicle which is designed, maintained or used primarily for the transportation of persons for compensation, or to the living quarters of a house coach or house trailer."
In plain English, legally it's okay to drink while you're the passenger in a cab, shuttle, bus, or limo -- provided that it's a fare-charging vehicle -- or in the back of an RV. Some companies have their own restrictions, however: For example, for the safety and comfort of their passengers, the city's Citizens Area Transport (CAT) buses have a no eating/drinking/smoking rule, and alcoholic beverages are not allowed on the Strip monorail.