The open alcohol container law – Who’s banned from holding a drink?

On Behalf of | Oct 12, 2023 | Criminal Defense, DUI

Per Pennsylvania law, driving while drunk or under the intoxicating effects of a controlled substance is illegal. Inebriation impairs a driver’s ability to react and motor skills, making them a danger to themselves and others on the road.

The state also has laws that prohibit drinking while driving. What is the open container law, and who are the only ones allowed to have an open container of alcohol while on the road?

Prohibition of open containers

According to Pennsylvania rules, both drivers and passengers are prohibited from possessing an open alcoholic beverage container while inside a motor vehicle that’s on a state highway. The same law also bans drivers and passengers from consuming controlled substances inside a vehicle.


However, the rule makes an exception for passengers who are in the passenger area of a motor vehicle designed for transportation for compensation, such as taxis, limousines and buses. There’s also an exception for passengers in the living quarters of a house coach or RV.


Those who violate the state’s open container laws commit a summary offense. While not as heavy as a misdemeanor, a summary offense can still lead to fines and even jail time.

Pennsylvania has five degrees of summary offenses. A conviction for the lowest fifth degree leads to a $25 fine. But a conviction for a first-degree summary offense leads to a $250 fine and up to 90 days of jail time.

Drivers accused of violating the open container law may also be charged for driving under the influence (DUI). The penalties for both may also combine, resulting in heavier fines and longer jail time, on top of potential license suspension.

To summarize, Pennsylvania’s open alcohol container law bans both drivers and passengers from holding and consuming alcoholic beverages while on the road. The offense may not be a serious crime but can accompany DUI charges. Drivers should be prepared to face multiple charges in court.

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