Maryland’s Open Container Law

The open container law in Maryland and the penalties for drinking and possessing an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle.

Subject to a few exceptions, drivers and passengers are generally prohibited from consuming and possessing open containers of alcohol in motor vehicles in Maryland. This article provides an overview of Maryland’s open container law, exceptions to the law, and the penalties for open container violations.

Open Container Law

It’s unlawful for an occupant of a motor vehicle on a highway to consume an alcoholic beverage or possess an open container that contains any amount of an alcoholic beverage in the passenger area. Maryland’s open container law applies to a motor vehicle located on a highway, regardless of whether it’s being driven or is stopped.

Unlike some states that make the driver responsible for all open containers in the vehicle, in Maryland, a driver won’t be prosecuted for a passenger’s possession of an open container.

Alcoholic beverage. “Alcoholic beverage” includes “spirituous, vinous, malt, or fermented liquor” fit for “beverage purposes” and containing at least .5% of alcohol by volume.

Open container. An “open container” means any can, bottle, or other receptacle that:

  • is open
  • has a broken seal, or
  • has had the contents partially removed.

Passenger area. The “passenger area” of a vehicle includes the area designed for the driver and passengers to sit while the vehicle is in operation. It also includes any area that is “readily accessible” to the driver or passengers while seated in the vehicle. However, the passenger area doesn’t include:

  • a locked glove compartment
  • a trunk (or the area behind the last upright seat if the vehicle doesn’t have a trunk), or
  • an area not typically occupied by a driver or passengers.

Motor vehicle. A “motor vehicle” is a vehicle that is self-propelled or propelled by electric power and is not operated on rails. Mopeds and motor scooters are included in this definition.

Exceptions

Several exceptions apply to Maryland’s open container law:

  • Passengers transported for compensation. A passenger can lawfully drink alcohol and possess open containers of alcohol in a motor vehicle used mainly to transport passengers for compensation, including buses, taxicabs, and limousines.
  • Passengers in living quarters. A passenger can legally drink alcohol and possess open containers of alcohol in the living area of a motor home, motor coach, or recreational vehicle.
  • Locked glove compartment or the trunk. A driver or passenger can lawfully possess an open container of alcohol in a locked glove compartment or the trunk of a motor vehicle. And for vehicles that don’t have a trunk, an open container of alcohol can be kept behind the last upright seat or in an area not usually occupied by the driver or passengers.
  • Partially consumed bottles of wine. At an establishment licensed to sell wine, a customer who has purchased a meal and consumed part of a bottle of wine can take the partially consumed bottle home that has been recorked or recapped. However, the partially consumed bottle of wine is still considered an open container. Therefore, it must be placed in a locked glove compartment, the trunk, or an area of a motor vehicle not normally occupied by the driver or passengers.

Penalties

A person who violates Maryland’s open container law commits a civil offense, punishable by a fine. The maximum fine is $25, plus $5 in court costs.

An open container violation is not a moving violation or a traffic violation. This means that a conviction won’t result in points being added to an offender’s driving record.

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