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What you need to know about Pennsylvania’s open container law

On Behalf of | Feb 26, 2024 | DUI Charges

There’s no question that a drunk driving conviction can upend life as you know it. But that’s not the only alcohol-related offense that can disrupt your future. Pennsylvania, like many other states in the country, has a law that makes it illegal to drink or simply possess an open alcohol container while in a vehicle. This is known as an open container law.

To avoid the negative impact an open container conviction can have your life, you have to understand the law. With that in mind, let’s take a deeper dive into Pennsylvania’s open container law.

Important points regarding Pennsylvania’s open container law

Although the open container law might seem straightforward on its face, there are some key aspects of it that you’ll want to pay attention to. First, the open container law applies regardless of whether your car is in motion. Therefore, you might be arrested and charged with violating the open container law even if you’re simply sitting in your car having a drink.

Second, Pennsylvania’s open container law applies regardless of whether you’re actually drinking the alcoholic beverage in question. Merely having an open container with alcohol is enough for charges to brought against you.

Third, the open container law applies to everyone within the vehicle. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that they can have an open container because they aren’t driving or aren’t behind the wheel. That simply isn’t the case. Anyone in the car can be charged with violating the open container law.

There are some exceptions to the law. For example, if you’re riding in a bus, limo, RV, or taxi, then you can legally possess an open container as long as you are in the back of the vehicle or in the living quarters.

What is an ‘open’ container?

Before you can be charged with a violation of the open container law, the police have to show that the container in question was actually open. To successfully prove this, the police can show any of the following:

  • The container in question has a broken seal.
  • The container has been previously opened.
  • Contents are missing from the container.
  • The container is missing a cap.

As you can see, it’s easy for the police to demonstrate that a container is open. This can pose significant problems, especially considering that you could be charged with a criminal offense for simply driving home from dinner with a recorked wine bottle if the police determine that it has been improperly resealed.

Implications of a violation of the open container law

The penalties associated with a violation of the open container law depend on your set of circumstances. For example, if you’re charged with an open container violation in conjunction with drunk driving, then the penalties are going to be more severe.

Generally, a straight violation of the open container law is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine of several hundred dollars. If you’re a commercial driver who is found to have violated this law, then you could end up losing your commercial license.