Anyone who has played the role of the designated driver will know the feeling – you’re driving a friend somewhere because they’re in no state to, but they insist on bringing a drink with them for the drive.
- In some states it’s perfectly fine to have a drink while someone else drives
- Other states take it seriously – no alcoholic drinks allowed in the car at all
- Yes, that means “tradie roadies” after work may be allowed… depending where you live
Is it illegal for passengers to be in your car while drinking alcohol? And can you get in trouble for it, as the driver? It depends on where you live and where you are in the car, because it may be okay in some situations and locations, while in other jurisdictions the penalties may be severe.
For example, in Victoria, the law states that “you must not drink alcohol, even if your blood alcohol concentration stays below your legal limit while driving a motor vehicle or sitting beside a person who is learning to drive”.
In Victoria: “Passengers are not prohibited from drinking alcohol in a vehicle. However, it is advised that passengers do not engage in drinking, as drunk passengers could distract a driver.”
In New South Wales there is no law that states that passengers must not drink while in a car, and nor is there any apparent rules for drivers when it comes to carrying passengers who have been drinking, are drunk, or are still drinking.
A NSW Courts website states that alcohol in cars legislation “only refers to drivers, so there is currently no restriction on passengers drinking alcohol while in a car”. But, if you’re planning on taking public transport (train, bus, ferry or even taxi) you are not allowed to consume alcohol while riding – and you’re not allowed to be in possession of an open container of alcohol. It’s worth abiding by that rule – you could be fined up to $1100.
South Australia doesn’t have a specific note in its state legislature about passengers drinking in a car.
In Queensland, Police Media has stated on public sites that drivers can “receive a fine for consuming liquor while driving, and passengers can also be fined for consuming liquor in a vehicle as it is deemed a public place”.
In Western Australia, passengers and the driver can be fined up to $2000 for drinking. This applies to vehicles, including party buses! WA Police posted a warning of such on Facebook in 2021: “Don’t make your trip on a party bus more expensive than you planned. You cannot drink alcohol in any vehicle on a road, unless it’s licensed or exempted. If you do, both you and the driver can be fined $2000.”
The Northern Territory does not appear to have specific rules around drinking in a car as a passenger, but it does suggest that, if you’re planning to drink, “you should plan how you will get home, stay overnight or arrange a Sober Bob”. If you’ve never heard of a Sober Bob, you might have heard of a designated driver (dezzy driver) or Sober Sally – someone who is willing to get you home safely.
Both WA and NT have rules for where alcohol is allowed to be consumed, and where it can be transported to, too. There are multiple “dry communities” in the remote areas that are alcohol-free zones – and that includes alcohol you might have in your car or caravan, and big penalties may apply.
Tasmania and the ACT also have laws around alcohol in cars – it’s not allowed to be consumed by the driver or passengers, and you’re not supposed to have open alcohol containers (so, no long-necks or tinnies in the cup holders) in the car at all.
Not intended as legal advice. Check with the relevant roads authority in your state or territory.