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Can a Passenger Drink in the Car in Pennsylvania?

If I’m a passenger, can I drink in the car in Pennsylvania?  What about if I’m driving, can my passengers drink?  While it goes without saying that we cannot drink and drive, these are valid questions.  After all, if you’re a passenger, you’re not driving under the influence  and putting lives at risk.


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What are the Pennsylvania Open Container Laws?

The Pennsylvania Open Container Laws apply to everybody in the car, not just the driver.  Under this law, both drivers and passengers may not possess an open alcohol container while on the roads.  Simply, a passenger cannot drink in the car while it is on the roadway anywhere throughout Pennsylvania.

Open container law pennsylvania

Passengers cannot drink in the car while on the road in Pennsylvania.

What if the car is parked? Can a passenger drink in the car then?

Importantly, the Pennsylvania Open Container Laws apply when your car is parked, as well.  While this means that the driver cannot drink while sitting in the car on the road, the law goes even further.  It also means that a passenger cannot have an open container of alcohol while sitting in the car on the road.  While it may seem like the law goes far enough in saying that a passenger cannot drink in the car, the law is even more restrictive.  Make sure your passenger knows that they cannot have an open container of alcohol in the car.

What if I’m not actually drinking the alcohol? Can a passenger have an open container in the car?

While this may seem like splitting hairs, you do not need to actually be drinking to violate the Pennsylvania Open Container Laws.  While a passenger cannot drink in the car, a passenger cannot sit and hold an open container of alcohol, either.  It does not matter that your passenger may not have consumed any of the alcohol.  Just holding the open container may lead to a criminal charge.

Are there Exceptions to this Law?

Yes, there are exceptions where a passenger can drink in the car.  While they will not allow you and your friends to drink in the car while simply driving around together, it is important to know the exceptions.  A passenger may drink in the car under the following circumstances:

  • You are the passenger sitting in a passenger seat (not the driver’s seat) of a vehicle that transports people for a fee.  This could include vehicles like buses, taxis, and limousines.
  • You are a passenger sitting in the living area of a house coach or house trailer.

Make sure to read these exceptions very carefully so you don’t make a big mistake.

What is the Penalty for a Passenger Drinking in a Car?

If you are caught as a passenger drinking in a car, or in any of the other circumstances we have discussed, you can be charged with a summary offense and made to pay a fine.  The fine may be up to $300 and you may also serve up to 90 days in jail.  By itself, this may not sound like a big concern.  However, having a conviction for violating the Pennsylvania Open Container Laws can lead to several other consequences:

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

Therefore, while the actual criminal penalty may not be severe, a conviction can have substantial effects on your life.

What if My Passenger is Not From Pennsylvania?

The Pennsylvania Open Container Laws apply to actions occurring in Pennsylvania.  Therefore, a passenger cannot drink in the car here, even if they live in a different state.  This is very important to know because open container laws can vary from state to state.  As a result, if you have a guest who is visiting from a different state, they may not know whether a passenger can drink in the car in Pennsylvania.  Make sure you inform them of the law to avoid any problems.

Why is there an Open Container Law?

Most states have open container laws.  Many of these laws are inspired by the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century.  This federal law actually defines what is means to have an open container in the passenger area of a car.  It also supports states in creating their own open container laws, such as the Pennsylvania Open Container Laws.

What if I’m Legally Allowed to Drink?

While it may not make total sense, a passenger cannot drink in the car even if they can legally use alcohol for some other purpose.  This is not a defense to the charge and you can still be convicted.  Long story short, a passenger cannot drink in a car unless one of the exceptions applies that we discussed earlier in this article.

I was Hit by a Car that had an Open Container Inside, What Should I Do?

If you were in a car accident and the vehicle that hit you had an open container of alcohol inside, make sure you contact an experienced attorney.  This can be very important for your case.  It’s possible the driver who caused the accident was under the influence of alcohol.

We have previously written about the Limited Tort election that can limit your compensation in a car accident.  However, if the at-fault driver is convicted of a DUI offense, you can receive additional compensation for your pain and suffering.

Kitay Law Offices is Here for You!

If you have been charged with a violation of the Pennsylvania Open Container Laws, it is important that you have an experienced attorney on your side.  Contact Kitay Law Offices at 888-KITAYLAW for a consultation.  We can help!

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