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An Overview of Pennsylvania’s Open Container Laws

Open container laws are common throughout the United States. Their purpose is to prohibit the possession or consumption of any alcoholic beverages in open containers in passenger compartments of vehicles — even for people who are not driving the vehicle.

Open container laws do not typically apply to any vehicles located on private property. They must be in vehicles that are on public roads or in public parking lots.

When a Container is Considered Open and What are some Exceptions?

Below are a few considerations to keep in mind regarding Pennsylvania open container laws:

  • When a container is considered open: The container is considered legally open if the original seal was broken or if the beverage was poured into a cup or glass.
  • Liability: In most cases, open container laws are not considered strict liability offenses, meaning the defendant must have known the container was open and that an alcoholic beverage was inside. For example, a person driving a bottle of liquor home from a grocery store would not be penalized if it fell and broke open in the vehicle.
  • Passengers: What happens if a passenger tries to smuggle an opened container into the vehicle? In some cases, only that passenger would be cited. However, it’s still possible the driver could face penalties.
  • Exceptions: Open container laws do not apply to limousines, party buses and the living areas of recreational vehicles. Containers stored in inaccessible areas of the vehicle are also exempt.

For more information about open container laws in Pennsylvania, work with experienced Reading criminal defense lawyer David R. Eshelman.


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