Michigan’s Open Container Law

Michigan’s open container law prohibits transporting or possessing an unsealed container of alcohol in a vehicle.

By: Rebecca Pirius, Attorney

In Michigan, it's unlawful to transport or possess an open container of alcohol in a:

  • moving vehicle in any public space (including a parking lot), or
  • moving or parked vehicle on a highway.

Unlike with an operating while intoxicated (OWI) charge, the open container law applies even if the driver is sober. This article provides an overview of the open container law's prohibitions and exceptions.

Open Container Law in MI

Michigan's open container law prohibits both drivers and passengers from transporting or possessing an open container of alcoholic liquor in a motor vehicle.

Alcoholic liquor. The definition of alcoholic liquor is broad and includes any liquid or compound containing any amount of alcohol. Examples include:

  • distilled liquor
  • spirits such as brandy, rum, whiskey, and gin
  • beer and wine, and
  • powders or medicated compounds containing alcohol.

Motor vehicle. The definition of "motor vehicle" is also broad—covering all self-propelled vehicles and any vehicle on a highway. One Michigan court found that a personal four-wheel scooter (used in lieu of a wheelchair) was a vehicle for purposes of the open container law.

The only vehicles expressly excluded from the definition are:

  • electric patrol vehicles
  • electric personal assistive mobility devices (defined as a two-wheel, self-balancing device—commonly known as a "Segway")
  • electric carriages (retrofitted horse carriages used as taxis), and
  • commercial quadricycles (sometimes called "pedal pubs").

Exceptions to Open Container Law

Inaccessible areas. An unsealed container of alcohol can be transported in the trunk of a vehicle or, if there is no trunk:

  • behind the last upright seat
  • in a locked glove compartment, or
  • in an area not occupied by the driver or passengers.

Chartered vehicles. The open container law does not apply to passengers in state-authorized, chartered vehicles, such as taxis or limousines.

Open Container Penalties and Fines

Punishments. A violation of the open container law is a misdemeanor for both drivers and passengers. A misdemeanor carries up to 90 days in jail and a maximum $100 fine. In addition, the court can order the offender to perform community service and pay for substance abuse screening and assessment.

Driving record. Two points are added to an offender's driving record for an open container violation. Accumulating 12 or more points in a two-year period can result in loss of driving privileges.

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