Can Passengers Drink Alcohol in Car PA?

Legally reviewed by:
Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford P.C.
May 22, 2024

can passengers drink alcohol in the car in PAIf you’re a Pennsylvania resident, you likely already know that police have the right to make an arrest if they suspect a driver is under the influence of alcohol. But what about passengers? If you’re entirely sober behind the wheel, are you held liable for the actions of those in your own vehicle? Do passengers face similar consequences if they have alcohol on them?

To most, drinking as a passenger may not initially appear to be a criminal act. After all, as a passenger, you’re not behind the wheel and putting lives at risk. However, the Commonwealth doesn’t see it the same way. Based on Pennsylvania’s open container laws and Pennsylvania’s open container law, these regulations apply to everybody in the car, not just the driver, meaning that neither drivers nor passengers can possess an open alcoholic beverage container while on the roads. An ‘open alcoholic beverage container’ is defined under Pennsylvania’s open container law as any bottle, can, or other receptacle that contains any amount of alcoholic beverage and is open, has a broken seal, or has had its contents partially removed. We’ve broken down Pennsylvania’s open container laws and the penalties drivers and passengers may face if found in violation.

Understanding Pennsylvania’s Open Container Laws

Most states—including Pennsylvania—have laws prohibiting the presence of open cans, bottles, or other unsealed containers of alcoholic beverages on sidewalks, streets, and inside vehicles. It’s crucial to note that an open container may include any container with a ‘broken seal’, further defining what is considered an open container under Pennsylvania law. The actual consumption of alcohol isn’t a decisive factor when police are determining whether the open container law is violated. In other words, if a bottle is open inside a vehicle, even if neither party was actually drinking, they’re still in violation.

Law enforcement officers and police officers play a critical role in identifying and penalizing open container violations, emphasizing their authority to ensure adherence to the law. A person who breaks Pennsylvania’s open container law commits a summary offense, which is punishable by a fine of up to $300 and up to 90 days in jail.

The Exceptions to Pennsylvania’s Open Container Laws

It’s important to note the exceptions to the rule. Pennsylvania’s open container laws don’t apply to passengers in the following types of vehicles:

  • Limousines, buses, and taxis: A passenger may lawfully consume an alcoholic beverage or possess an open container if the passenger area is used mainly for transporting individuals for compensation.
  • House coaches, RVs, and trailers: Under the Commonwealth’s open container laws, you may consume alcohol or possess an open container of alcohol in the living quarters of a house coach or house trailer.

In these particular cases, the alcohol must be in the back of the vehicle or in the living quarters where the driver doesn’t have access to it.

What Is the Penalty for a Passenger Caught Drinking in a Car?

If you’re a passenger who’s been arrested for carrying an open container of alcohol or a controlled substance in the vehicle, you may be charged with an ‘open container violation’. This violation encompasses not only alcohol but also any controlled substance, underlining the seriousness of Pennsylvania’s regulations against open containers and controlled substances in vehicles. The fine for an open container violation can be up to $300, and you may also serve up to 90 days in jail. Additionally, if the violation involves a controlled substance, the legal consequences can extend beyond these penalties, potentially involving more severe charges related to drug possession. While this may not sound like a substantial concern, having a conviction for violating the open container laws can eventually lead to other severe consequences, such as:

  • Having a criminal record
  • Your car insurance dropping its coverage
  • If you have a criminal record, your penalties may increase
  • Higher car insurance costs

As a result, while the actual criminal penalty may not be severe, a conviction can have a substantial effect on your life.

Get in Touch with a Knowledgeable Montgomery County DUI Defense Lawyer

If you are a passenger who has been arrested for carrying an open container in a vehicle, get in touch with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Montgomery County as soon as possible. The Southeastern Pennsylvania DUI attorneys understand how difficult this time can be for you, which is why we’re committed to fighting for your rights and protecting your interests during the legal process. Our highly trusted legal team understands the ins and outs of Pennsylvania’s open container laws and will be by your side every step of the way.

The seasoned lawyers at Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford have been helping clients for more than 65 years in Montgomery County, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, Lehigh County, and throughout the surrounding areas. We’ve gained the respect and trust of clients facing a range of legal problems. Our attorneys are prepared to protect you and guard your rights. Contact us at (215) 822-7575 or complete our online contact form today.

Legally reviewed by:
Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford P.C.
Pennsylvania Attorney's
May 22, 2024
Established in 1952 by Irwin S. Rubin, Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford P.C. boasts over 65 years of experience serving clients throughout Pennsylvania. Renowned for its commitment to ethical representation, the firm has garnered prestigious accolades, including being named the "Best Law Firm" for its outstanding legal defense work by U.S. News & World Report. Their team of seasoned attorneys, recognized as Pennsylvania Super Lawyers and Rising Stars, brings unparalleled expertise to a wide range of legal matters, ensuring exceptional representation for individuals, families, businesses, and organizations.