In Trouble with the Law

7 Ways Tailgate Fun Can Land You in Legal Trouble

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For many football fans, tailgating on weekends is an American pastime. There’s nothing better on a cool autumn morning than to load up the grill and a cooler and hit the road with your friends and family. But tailgate party fun can quickly turn sideways when drinking alcohol leads to bad decisions, such as drinking and driving. Even if you aren’t drinking alcohol, there are safety concerns that can get you and your fellow tailgaters in hot water. Here are seven tips to help you steer clear of stiff legal penalties.

1. Don't drink and drive.

After the excitement of a game and tailgating all day, football fans are often in a hurry to get home. Depending on how much alcohol was consumed before, during and after the game, getting behind the wheel is a dangerous choice. Even if you are drinking and driving under the legal limit, impaired judgment, reduced visual function and coordination begin as soon as you consume 1 to 2 drinks.

You may be thinking that if you stop drinking before the game starts that you won’t be impaired when it’s time to go home, but that’s not always the case. While there are many factors (gender, height, weight, food consumed and medications) that contribute to how quickly an individual’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) increases, everyone’s BAC dissipates at a rate of .016 per hour.

That means if you have a large man and a small woman who both have a BAC of .08, which is the legal limit in many states, it will take both of them 5 hours for the alcohol to completely leave their system. At a BAC of .10, it would take 7 hours for the alcohol to clear out.

The safest way to avoid trouble from driving under the influence is to have a sober designated driver. Even with a driver, you need to drink alcohol responsibly. So before you pack a drink for the road, remember that open container laws in 40 states prohibit drivers and passengers from having an open container of alcohol and drinking alcohol in a car.

2. Remember that public intoxication can get you arrested.

While drinking alcohol is common at a tailgate party, binge drinking to rapidly increase your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) can get you arrested for public intoxication. Drinking games that encourage participants to finish drinks in rapid succession or take shots of liquor can put your BAC at a dangerously high level. At .06 to .15 BAC speech, memory and balance are all significantly impaired. At .16 to .30 BAC a person is likely to vomit and/or pass out. Over .30 BAC is life-threatening.

To deter binge drinking and reduce public intoxication cases, many colleges have rules about the type and amount of alcohol football fans are allowed to bring to a tailgate party. For example, after a fatal accident at Yale, the school no longer allows kegs at tailgate parties. Check with your team’s tailgate guidelines for details on what type and how much alcohol is allowed at a tailgate party.

3. Don't overlook underage drinking.

While Mom and Dad are enjoying a beer with friends, they may not notice they’re missing a few cans from the cooler, but knowingly providing alcohol to a minor (or not limiting a minor’s access to alcohol) can get both the adults and kids in trouble.

In Illinois, for example, an adult convicted of providing alcohol to a minor can get hit with fines up to $2,500. If a serious injury or death occurs because of the underage drinking, the adult could be facing jail time and fines up to $25,000. The minor will likely get their driver’s license suspended for a period of time. In addition to legal trouble, the minor may also be suspended from extracurricular activities (such as sports teams and music) for breaking their school’s code of conduct.

4. Hold that thought of urinating in public.

You know that moment. You’re a few beers in and you really need to go. But the porta-potty is at the far end of the parking lot and the line is a mile long. Then you look at the line of trees behind your tailgate party, and you think, “Maybe nobody will notice if I just go there.” Maybe not. But maybe they will.

Public urination laws vary by state. In some states you would be charged with a misdemeanor. In others you could be convicted for lewd and lascivious behavior and added to the state’s sex offender list. And once you’re on that list, it’s difficult to get your name off of it. It may be even more difficult to explain to family, friends and employers why you’re on the list in the first place.

5. Keep in mind that sexual activity in public can expose you to legal trouble.

Speaking of lewd and lascivious behavior, getting frisky with your partner at a tailgate party could lead to a multitude of charges including indecent exposure, public lewdness and mostly likely, public intoxication. Again in some states, performing a sexual act in public could gain you the unsavory title of sex offender.

6. Don't allow your enthusiasm to turn into assault and battery.

Sports fans are passionate about their teams. A friendly rivalry can become heated when an exchange of words turns to trading punches. Add alcohol to the mix, and fighting can get dangerously out of hand. The penalties for assault and battery depend on the severity of the incident and injuries, and can lead to even more serious charges, such as aggravated assault. Laws typically vary by state. In Michigan, for example, a first-time offender of a misdemeanor assault could face a fine of $500 and up to 93 days of imprisonment.

7. Steer clear of property damage.

Even if there were never any alcohol-related incidents at tailgate parties, there is still potential for accidents when you combine heavy traffic and large pedestrian crowds.

To avoid fender benders going to and from a tailgate party:

  • Have a sober designated driver.
  • Don’t text or use your mobile device while driving.
  • Turn down the music for fewer distractions.

A parked car is also at risk. Be aware of your surroundings while tailgating near your vehicle. Cars can be damaged by well-meaning football fans who throw a stray football through another fan’s window. Also, if not properly cooled, an unattended grill can catch fire long after you’ve gone in to watch the game. Unsecured pop-up tents, unleashed animals and objects that obstruct foot traffic can lead to a wide variety of situations where you may be liable for damages and/or facing a personal law suit. To ensure a safe tailgate party:

  • Have a sober designated driver.
  • Consume alcohol, if you choose to, in a responsible manner.
  • Set up the grill and any tables on stable ground, as far away from vehicles as possible.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher near the grill.
  • Leave pets at home.
  • Don’t impede the flow of traffic with tables or tailgate games.
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