This is a protect yourself blog post, I’ve done quite a bit of reading in regards to Maine liquor laws and at some point I ended up looking at the open container laws and realized that I’ve been in violation without even knowing it. I’m not talking about drinking and driving here either, that’s a separate problem, you can be in violation of the open container laws without ever having taken a drink.
Let’s start by looking at the definition of “Open Alcoholic Beverage Container”, from Title 29-A, Chapter 19, Subchapter 2: §2112-A. Open container; drinking in a vehicle prohibited states:
“”Open alcoholic beverage container” means a bottle, can or other receptacle that contains any amount of alcohol, and that is open or has a broken seal, or the contents of which are partially removed.”
I think the main thing to concentrate on in this statement that is important is “broken seal”. It’s pretty obvious if you have an open beer bottle or a can that’s been opened that you are in clear violation but you cannot fix a “broken Seal” it doesn’t mean “put a cap on it” it is referring to the manufacturers tamper evident seal. So on Margarita night when your friend calls up and asks you to bring some Tequila, you are in violation if you grab the bottle that’s already open in your liquor cabinet. If you decide to bring along the bottle of wine to finish at a gathering and it’s got the cork stuck in the top, you are in violation. If your buddy who homebrews fills a growler for you to take home, violation.
Now this doesn’t mean don’t bring along your wine or go to the store for a fresh bottle of tequila, as long as the “open container” is not in the passenger area of the vehicle you are within your legal right. “Passenger Area” would be the inside of the vehicle where operator and passengers sit; the glove box is off limits as well. The trunk or the bed of your truck would be fine, stick it in a cooler or Growler on Board so it doesn’t rattle around and keep it well away from the operator and passengers and you’re good to go.
There are some exceptions called out in the Open Container law:
- If your vehicle does not have a trunk the container must be “located behind the last upright seat of the vehicle or in an area not normally occupied by the operator or passenger”
- The vehicle is “for Hire”, so if you rented a limo service you are ok, but this exemption does exclude taxicabs.
- Passengers are consuming alcohol in the “Living Quarters” of the vehicle; this one covers open container and consumption by passengers in a motorhome.
- The operator’s employer holds a license for off premise catering and the alcohol being transported is or was for an event.
An open container violation carries a $165 fine and it goes on your record the same as a traffic infraction, although commonly linked with OUI violations and minors in possession of alcohol there is a distinct possibility that this violation will become more commonplace. With the rise in popularity of Growlers there is the increased chance that craft beer fans will be travelling in violation, whether it’s an “Unsealed” growler or a partially full growler that’s returning home from a gathering, if it’s not stored in the vehicle properly you could be running the risk of penalties if pulled over. I have spoken with members of law enforcement in regards to the open container laws and confirmed that improperly stored growlers are a concern.
As a motor vehicle operator or passenger it is your responsibility to understand the laws you are subject to while in a vehicle, the open container laws are in place as a deterrent to those who would consume alcohol while operating a motor vehicle, by understanding the law you can protect yourself from making a potentially costly mistake.
I have not researched open container laws for other states, this is strictly looking at Maine laws, If you are not in Maine please refer to your states open container laws.