Open Container Laws in Massachusetts

Possessing an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle in Massachusetts is punishable by $100 to $500 in fines.
Written by Pat Roache
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
open container laws carry $100 to $500 in fines for any driver or passenger who possesses an open container of alcohol in a parked or moving vehicle in a publicly accessible area.
Did you know you can get in trouble for having an open container of alcohol in your car even if nobody’s drinking it? 
Every state has different policies when it comes to open containers in motor vehicles. That's why the
car insurance
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is here with a quick guide to the open container laws in Massachusetts.
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What is the open container law in Massachusetts?

Section 14.90.21I
of the General Laws of Massachusetts prohibits the “possession of alcoholic beverages in a motor vehicle.
Under this law, anyone in the passenger area of a motor vehicle can be written a citation for possessing an open container or resealed container of alcohol.
The law holds weight in the following areas:
  • Public roadways
  • Public places
  • Anywhere the public has been given access to as invitees or licensees
With this law in effect, it is essentially illegal to keep an alcoholic beverage in the cabin of your vehicle unless it is sealed in its original container. An open container is illegal to have in your car whether you are moving or parked and even if it’s out of reach and not being consumed.

What counts as an open container?

There are two important definitions to note in the Massachusetts open container law—the open container and the passenger area. An open container is legally defined as a bottle, can, or any other liquid-carrying receptacle that meets one of the following criteria:
  • It has been opened
  • It has a seal that has been broken (like a tamper-evident ring on a twist-off cap or the metal capsule on a wine bottle) 
  • It has had some of its contents partially removed or consumed
If alcohol is in your vehicle’s cabin, it needs to be in its original packaging without any signs of tampering or consumption. Even if the alcoholic beverage has been properly resealed in a new container—say a to-go cocktail bottle from a restaurant—it is still not permitted in the passenger area of your car.
Which brings us to our next legal definition—the passenger area. Massachusetts law defines the passenger area as:
  • The area of a car designed to seat the driver and passengers
  • Any area accessible to the driver and passengers while seated, including the glove compartment
Meanwhile, the passenger area legally does not include:
  • A locked glove compartment
  • The trunk of a vehicle
  • The area behind the last row of seats or a typically unoccupied area if the vehicle is not equipped with a trunk

Exceptions to Massachusetts’s open container law

There are very few exceptions to Massachusetts’s open container law. You are only allowed to possess an open container of alcohol if you are a passenger in:
  • a motor vehicle specifically intended for and actively used for compensated transportation (such as a limo, taxi, or bus)
  • The living area of a motor home or a similar type of recreational or live-in vehicle
Key Takeaway: Under Massachusetts’s General Law it is illegal to possess an open container of alcohol in the passenger area of a moving or parked motor vehicle occupying a public area. 

Penalties for violating Massachusetts’s open container law

If you are caught violating Massachusetts’s open container law you’ll face anywhere from $100 to $500 in fines. However, the penalties are much greater if your open container comes hand-in-hand with intoxicated driving.
If you are caught with an open container while operating a vehicle under the influence (also known as an
OUI in Massachusetts
) your license will be suspended for the following periods depending on your number of previous
  • First offense: one year
  • Second offense: two years
  • Third offense: eight years
  • Fourth offense: ten years
  • Fifth offense: for life
To get your
license reinstated
after a second, third, or fourth offense, you’ll need to successfully retake written and road tests and install an interlock ignition device system in your vehicle.
If you refuse to take a chemical test when you’re arrested for an OUI, your officer also has the right to immediately:
  • Confiscate your Massachusetts permit or license
  • Issue written notification of your immediate
    license suspension
    or revocation with no option for a temporary restricted license
  • Order the impoundment of your vehicle for 12 hours

How to save money on car insurance in Massachusetts

As a driver in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, it's your responsibility to be familiar with and abide by
Massachusetts car insurance laws
, but you'll probably want more coverage than the bare minimums required by your state. Try using
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The ticket for an open container violation in Massachusetts can be issued to the driver or passenger of a motor vehicle at the best discretion of the issuing officer.
If you deny a breathalyzer test in Massachusetts, the issuing officer can immediately suspend or revoke your license and impound your vehicle for up to 12 hours.
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