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Ask a Trooper: Open containers and party buses

December 12, 2014
By Trooper Vince Kurtz - Iowa State Patrol Safety Education , Estherville News

Q: How do "party busses" and limousines get past the open container laws pertaining to opened alcohol for passengers in vehicles? Would the driver be at risk for any charges?

A: Iowa's open container law is a key tool in the fight against drunk driving. While Iowa ranks in the top 5 nationally for the lowest number of alcohol related fatalities, an estimated 25% of these crashes are still attributed to alcohol. It goes without saying that an open container of alcohol within the reach of the driver is a bad idea. This is where the open container law is effective in law enforcements fight.

Code section 321.284A outlines the basic regulations that apply here.

1. A passenger or driver in a motor vehicle upon a public street or highway shall not possess in the passenger area of the motor vehicle an open or unsealed bottle, can, jar, or other receptacle containing an alcoholic beverage. "Passenger area" means the area of a motor vehicle designed to seat the driver and passengers while the motor vehicle is in operation and any area that is readily accessible to the driver or a passenger while in their seating positions, including the glove compartment. An open or unsealed receptacle containing an alcoholic beverage may be transported in the trunk of the motor vehicle. An unsealed receptacle containing an alcoholic beverage may be transported behind the last upright seat of the motor vehicle if the motor vehicle does not have a trunk. ($330.00 scheduled fine.)

Many Iowans may not even be aware of an exception to the open container law. 321.284A goes on as follows:

2. This section does not apply to a passenger being transported in a motor vehicle designed, maintained, or used primarily for the transportation of persons for compensation, or a passenger being transported in the living quarters of a motor home, manufactured or mobile home, travel trailer, or fifth-wheel travel trailer.

This section allows 'party busses' for hire and limousine services to offer their patrons alcoholic beverages while on the road. Some may ask what the difference would be from allowing non-commercial vehicle passengers to drink. The distinction here is the limo driver being compensated for his time. This also makes the limo or 'party bus' a commercial vehicle, thus requiring a higher level of licensing and open to DOT inspection (325.A, 391.41-FMCSR, 321.17, 321.174). The commercial driver would still be covered under the open container law, and be held to a higher standard of sobriety. Any presence of alcohol in the commercial driver's system is a citable offense (321.449). And the legal limit for OWI would be .04 BAC as compared to .08 for non-commercial drivers (321.21J).

Even though these limousines and 'party busses' are exempted from the passenger open container law, the standard for their lawful operation is much higher than their non-commercial counterparts.



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