Indiana’s Open Container Law

The rules and consequences for consuming and possessing open alcoholic beverages in a motor vehicle.

Indiana’s open container law generally prohibits consuming and possessing open containers of alcohol in a motor vehicle. However, the law doesn’t apply in certain circumstances. And violations for possession of open containers of alcohol are treated differently than those for consumption of alcohol. This article provides an overview of Indiana’s open container law and the penalties for violations.

Consumption and Possession of Open Containers of Alcohol

Indiana’s open container law makes it unlawful for a person in a motor vehicle to possess a container that is open, has a broken seal, or has some of the contents removed. To be illegal, the motor vehicle must be in operation or located on the “right-of-way” of a public highway.

It’s also unlawful for the driver of a motor vehicle to consume an alcoholic beverage while the vehicle is being driven on a public highway.

An “alcoholic beverage” is defined as a liquid or solid that:

  • contains .5% or more alcohol by volume
  • is for human consumption, and
  • is intended to be used as a beverage.

A “container” is any receptacle that contains an alcoholic beverage.

Exceptions

Certain vehicles. Passengers can lawfully possess an open container of alcohol in the:

  • passenger compartment of a motor vehicle that’s used primarily for the transportation of persons for compensation (like a limousine or taxi), and
  • living area of a “house coach or house trailer.”

However, the driver of such a vehicle is still prohibited from possessing open containers of alcohol.

Areas within a vehicle. An open container of alcohol can legally be placed in a locked, fixed compartment such as a center console or trunk. If the motor vehicle doesn’t have a trunk, the open container can be placed behind the last upright seat or in an area not typically occupied by people.

Restaurant Wine Exception. Indiana’s open container law also allows for the transportation of a partially consumed bottle of wine in some circumstances. A restaurant licensed to sell wine can allow customers who have purchased a meal and consumed part of a bottle of wine to take the partially consumed bottle home. To legally transport one partially consumed bottle of wine in a motor vehicle, the restaurant must:

  • reseal the bottle, and
  • place it in a container that makes it apparent if the container has been opened or tampered with subsequent to the resealing.

This exception also requires the person transporting the wine to place it in a locked, fixed compartment (or behind the last upright seat or in an area not usually occupied by people if the vehicle doesn’t have a trunk).

Penalties

A person who possesses an open container of alcohol while a motor vehicle is in operation or located on a public highway commits a Class C infraction. The maximum fine is $500. A conviction is not considered a moving traffic violation and no points are added to an offender’s driving record.

A driver of a motor vehicle who consumes an alcoholic beverage while a motor vehicle is being operated on a public highway commits a Class B infraction. The maximum fine is $1,000 and the conviction will add six points to the motorist’s driving record.

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