Pennsylvania’s Open Container Law and Violation Penalties

The open container law in Pennsylvania and the penalties for possessing open containers of alcohol and consuming alcohol or drugs in a motor vehicle.

By , Attorney · Thomas Jefferson School of Law

Generally, Pennsylvania prohibits the consumption of alcohol and drugs, as well as the possession of open containers of alcohol in motor vehicles. However, there are exceptions allowing passengers to drink alcohol and have open containers of alcohol in certain types of vehicles. This article provides an overview of Pennsylvania's open container law, exceptions, and the penalties for violating the law.

Pennsylvania's Alcohol Open Container Restrictions for Vehicles

Pennsylvania's open container law makes it unlawful for a driver or passenger in a motor vehicle located on a highway to:

  • be in possession of an open alcoholic beverage container, or
  • consume a controlled substance or an alcoholic beverage.

In other words, the law goes beyond possession of an open container and also prohibits using drugs or drinking alcohol in a vehicle.

What Is Considered an "Open Container" Under Pennsylvania Law?

Unlike the laws of some other states, Pennsylvania's open container law doesn't explicitly define "open container."

However, it's probably fair to say that a Pennsylvania court would use a common-sense approach in interpreting this phrase. So, it's likely that an alcohol container with a broken seal or with some of the contents removed would qualify as an open container.

Can a Passenger of a Vehicle Have an Open Container in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania's open container law applies to drivers and vehicle passengers. However, there are a number of exceptions (discussed below) that apply to vehicle passengers.

Exceptions to Pennsylvania's Open Container Law

Pennsylvania's open container law has a number of exceptions for certain types of vehicles.

Passengers in Buses, Taxis, and Limousines Can Drink Alcohol

A passenger can lawfully consume an alcoholic beverage or possess an open container of alcohol in the passenger area of a motor vehicle used mainly for transporting persons for compensation. Such vehicles include buses, taxis, and limousines.

Passengers in RVs and Trailers Are Allowed to Drink Alcohol

The open container law doesn't prohibit the consumption of alcohol or possession of open containers of alcohol in the living quarters of a house coach or house trailer.

Open Containers in the Trunk or Non-Passenger Areas of Vehicle

Pennsylvania's open container law applies to the passenger areas of a vehicle. In other words, areas of the vehicle to which the driver or passengers have access. So transporting an open container in the trunk of a vehicle is generally allowed.

Penalties for Open Container Violations in Pennsylvania

A person who violates Pennsylvania's open container law commits a summary offense. A summary offense is punishable by a maximum fine of $300 and/or up to 90 days in jail.

Underage Drivers Who Consume Alcohol

A person under 21 years of age is subject to the same penalties for open container violations as adult offenders.

However, a minor who drives or is in "actual physical control" of a vehicle after consuming alcohol can be charged with a driving under the influence of alcohol offense. If the minor's alcohol concentration is .02% or more within two hours after driving, the minor is considered impaired.

A minor convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol for a first offense will be sentenced to at least 48 hours in jail and a fine of $500 to $5,000. The minor will also be required to attend a highway safety school and drug/alcohol treatment.

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