Massachusetts’s Open Container Law and Violation Penalties

The open container law and the penalties for possessing alcoholic beverages in open containers in motor vehicles.

By , Attorney · Thomas Jefferson School of Law

In Massachusetts, possession of open containers of alcohol is generally prohibited by drivers and passengers. However, the law allows passengers to possess open containers in some circumstances. This article provides an overview of Massachusetts's open container law, exceptions to the general prohibitions, and the penalties for a violation of the law.

Massachusetts's Open Container Law

It's unlawful for a person to possess an open container of an alcoholic beverage in the passenger area of a motor vehicle that's located:

  • on any way or place that the public has a right to access, or
  • on any way or place that members of the public have a right to access as invitees or licensees.

How Massachusetts Defines "Open" Container

An "open container" is defined as any bottle, can, or receptacle that has been opened, has a broken seal, or has had the contents partially removed or consumed.

Massachusetts's Open Container Law Applies Only to "Passenger Areas" of the Vehicle

The "passenger area" is the portion of the vehicle designed for the driver and passengers to sit while the motor vehicle is operating. It also includes any area that's readily accessible to the driver or passengers while in a seated position. An unlocked glove compartment is considered to be part of the passenger area. However, the passenger area doesn't include a locked glove compartment, the trunk of a vehicle, or the area behind the last upright seat if the vehicle doesn't have a trunk.

Exceptions to Massachusetts's Open Container Rules

Passengers in certain types of vehicles. A passenger can lawfully possess an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle that's designed and used for transporting persons for compensation and in the living area of a house coach or house trailer. However, it's unlawful for the driver of such a vehicle to possess an open container of alcohol.

Partially consumed bottle of wine. An establishment licensed to sell wine can allow customers to take a partially consumed bottle of wine home if:

  • the customer purchased a bottle of wine with a meal
  • the wine was not totally consumed by the customer during the meal, and
  • the bottle is resealed.

A resealed bottle of wine is not considered to be an open container as long as it's not transported in the passenger area of a motor vehicle. Therefore, to lawfully transport a resealed partially consumed bottle of wine in a motor vehicle, it must be placed in a locked glove compartment, the trunk, or the area behind the last upright seat if the vehicle doesn't have a trunk.

Penalties for Open Container Tickets in Massachusetts

A person who violates the open container law in Massachusetts commits an infraction, punishable by a fine of $100 to $500.

In addition to the fine specified above, a person who is under the age of 18 at the time of committing an open container violation will face a driver's license or permit suspension. For a first offense, the underage offender's license or permit is suspended for 180 days. For a second or subsequent conviction, the suspension is for one year.

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