Are Tailgate Parties Legal?

The laws and limits on this cherished American pastime.

Whether you're camping out, partying before a football game, or just relaxing with friends, tailgate parties are an iconic part of the American lifestyle. But how does this cherished American pastime jive with DUI (driving under the influence), open container, and public intoxication laws?

This article outlines when and where tailgate parties are permitted and some tips for keeping things lawful.

Tailgate Parties and Drinking in Public

If you're planning to have alcohol at a tailgate party, it's a good idea to check whether local laws allow for the open consumption of alcohol.

Some States Allow Alcohol Consumption in Public

Many states, like Indiana and Texas, have no laws prohibiting alcohol consumption in public areas. So if you're in one of these states, drinking alcohol in public parks, sidewalks, parking lots, and the like shouldn't be a problem.

States and Municipalities That Prohibit Public Alcohol Consumption

However, some states, such as Kansas, prohibit any consumption of alcohol outside of a privately owned business or residence. In these states, drinking alcohol on the street, in a public park, or on the sidewalk is expressly prohibited. Some towns, cities, and municipalities also have ordinances that restrict drinking in public.

States That Allow Some Public Consumption of Alcohol

A few states take a middle-ground approach to drinking in public. These states generally prohibit open alcohol consumption on streets, sidewalks, and public roadways but allow alcohol consumption in parks and parking lots.

Common Exceptions to Public Alcohol Consumption Laws

State laws restricting the public consumption of alcohol often contain exceptions for special events and entertainment districts. Some notable examples of public consumption exceptions include:

  • Street fairs and beer gardens. Many cities issue temporary permits for events that allow the event planners to serve alcohol for public consumption. Typically, patrons at these permitted events can legally consume alcohol within a designated perimeter.
  • College campuses. Many college campuses have agreements with local governments that permit the consumption of alcohol on campus. However, institutions that do this generally have specific rules about when and where alcohol can be consumed. For example, many universities permit the open consumption of alcohol on game days in designated parking lots during certain hours.
  • Certain cities. A handful of cities have special laws and agreements that permit the open consumption of alcohol (within a certain perimeter). For example, New Orleans and Atlantic City have these kinds of established open consumption areas.

Although it might seem obvious, it's worth noting that public alcohol consumption restrictions generally don't apply to private property. So it's normally okay to have tailgate parties and consume alcohol on private properties such as stadium parking lots (so long as the private owners don't have restrictions).

Tailgate Parties and Open Container Laws

Most states prohibit open alcohol containers in vehicles. In some states, open container prohibitions apply even if the car is parked on a street.

However, open container laws generally apply to the passenger areas of vehicles to which the passengers or driver would have access while the vehicle is in operation. So, as long as no one is inside the vehicle with alcohol, a tailgate party probably won't lead to anyone getting an open container ticket.

Public Intoxication Restrictions Can be a Factor for Tailgate Party Drinkers

Of course, the perfect tailgate party can also be ruined by overindulgence. Aside from the social faux pas, public intoxication is illegal.

State definitions vary but, generally, a person is considered intoxicated if he or she is harassing or annoying others, breaching the peace, or endangering the safety of others. Officers are allowed to enforce these laws on any property open to the public including parks, college campuses, and some parking lots.

Underage Alcohol Consumption at Tailgate Parties

While many colleges have special rules related to the open consumption of alcohol and tailgate events, underage drinking is never allowed. Additionally, adults that provide alcohol to minors can face criminal charges.

Tailgate Parties and Drunk Driving Laws

Generally, to be convicted of a DUI, a person must either be in the driver's seat or have access to the vehicle controls. In most states, actual driving isn't required for a DUI conviction.

However, so long as everyone remains outside of the vehicle during tailgate parties, there probably isn't much risk of being cited for a DUI offense.

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