Avoid Fines: Understanding Indiana’s Open Container Law Easil

Indiana’s open container law, like similar statutes in most states across America, aims to increase roadway safety by placing legal limitations on the possession of open alcoholic beverages in motor vehicles. This law contains specifics regarding what constitutes an open container, where precisely the law applies, penalties for violations, and exemptions in certain circumstances.

For all Indiana residents who ever ride in or operate vehicles in the state, having a working knowledge of the open container law is quite important to avoid inadvertent infractions. Even simple possession comes with stiff fines, while actively consuming alcohol while driving ratchets penalties even higher.

This article will dive deep into all aspects of Indiana’s open container statute – from precise definitions to real-world applications and examples. With a full understanding of this regulation, Hoosier motorists can take proactive steps to ensure compliance and promote public safety on our roadways.

Defining an Open Alcoholic Beverage Container

When referring to open containers, the Indiana law utilizes a broad definition encompassing any receptacle with access to alcoholic contents. Specifically, an open alcoholic beverage container includes:

  • Any bottle, can, box, or other vessel containing an alcoholic beverage not sealed shut or secured from access. This includes any container with a broken seal, pulled tab, removed cork, or loosened lid allowing consumption.
  • Cups, glasses, opened cans/bottles, unpacked beverage boxes, and any other vessel actually containing an alcoholic beverage ready for drinking, even if temporarily covered or capped.
  • Any contents classified as an alcoholic beverage under state law – including beer, malt beverages, wine, distilled spirits, and mixed cocktails containing alcohol.

Simply put, any container from which a person can access and consume an alcoholic drink is considered an open beverage container. This broad definition is meant to encompass the infinite number of vessels capable of holding such beverages.

Where Indiana’s Open Container Law Applies

The Indiana open container statute governs vehicles operating on public roadways. The law’s jurisdiction includes:

  • All moving motor vehicles on roads, highways, expressways, turnpikes, and any other public vehicular right-of-way.
  • Road shoulders and lanes of travel – whether paved or not. Unpaved backroads and trails still qualify as restricted public roadways.
  • Public parking lots, ramps, garages, and paved pull-offs directly adjoining a highway.
  • Any paved area intended for licensed motor vehicle use, even if temporarily closed for construction or events.

In essence, if a motor vehicle is operating in any public space or right-of-way intended for traffic, Indiana’s open container law is in effect. Areas explicitly exempt from this law are covered in the upcoming section on exceptions.

Where Indiana’s Open Container Law Applies

Open Containers and Moving Vehicles Only

A key point about Indiana’s open container statute is that it only applies to occupants inside motor vehicles actually in operation. The law does not apply to parked vehicles, nor does it prohibit open containers in public settings outside a vehicle.

More specifically, individuals are only subject to the open container law when they are:

  • A passenger or operator inside a motor vehicle in motion on any public road.
  • Sitting in a stationary vehicle still located on a public road where it may immediately resume motion (such as waiting at a traffic light).

Open container possession is permitted when a vehicle is legally parked off active roadways – whether in a private driveway, a public parking facility, or other location away from moving traffic. Of course, other local regulations may still restrict open beverage containers in public settings outside a vehicle.

Exemptions and Exceptions to Indiana’s Open Container Law

Indiana’s open container statute does carve out a variety of exceptions where possession of an open alcoholic beverage is legally permitted inside a motor vehicle. Major exemptions include:

Professional Transportation Vehicles

  • Limousines, party buses, taxis, ride shares, and other passenger vehicles for hire may contain open containers provided the driver section is sealed off. The driver may not partake.

Private Residential Spaces in a Vehicle

  • Trunk compartments, glove boxes, coolers, or other fully enclosed spaces behind the last upright passenger seat.
  • Living quarter sections of motor homes or RVs that are sufficiently separated from the driving compartment.

Licensed Commercial Carriers

  • Open containers are allowed in semi-trucks, buses, and other licensed carriers engaged in interstate commerce. They are still prohibited in the driver area.

Sealed Wine Transport from Restaurants

  • Restaurants may provide patrons with sealed, capped bottles of unfinished wine to take home. This exemption only applies when transported in a vehicle per the restaurant’s packaging.

These limited exceptions generally relate to private activities where roadway safety is not directly impacted. Nonetheless, compliance is still required anywhere public roads or spaces are concerned.

Penalties for Violating Indiana’s Open Container Law

Transporting an open alcoholic container in a motor vehicle constitutes a legal infraction in Indiana. Penalties vary based on the type of violation:

Simple Possession

Possessing an open beverage container is a Class C infraction punishable by fines up to $500. No arrest is permitted for simple possession.

Consuming While Operating a Vehicle

Drinking alcoholic beverages while driving bumps the offense up to a more severe Class B infraction. Potential penalties include:

  • Fines up to $1000
  • 90 day driver’s license suspension
  • Up to 4 points added to the operator’s driving record

Unlike possession, active consumption while driving is subject to greater fines and license sanctions. Both types of open container violations result in infractions on the motorist’s record.

How Open Container Laws Are Enforced

Because Indiana’s open container statute only applies to occupants of moving vehicles, enforcement occurs primarily via:

  • Traffic patrols observing open containers in plain sight inside vehicles.
  • Checkpoints and traffic stops where officers spot open containers inside a detained vehicle.
  • Field sobriety tests of potentially intoxicated drivers involving open liquor containers.

Police require probable cause to thoroughly search a vehicle for hidden containers. However, any open alcohol containers sighted in plain view provide cause for further investigation, including potential DUI charges.

Ultimately, compliance comes down to refraining from placing open alcoholic drinks inside the operating cabin of a motor vehicle on public roads. Safely stowing any containers before getting underway is the surest way to avoid violations.

Open Containers in Parked and Private Vehicles

As noted previously, Indiana’s open container statute only applies to occupants of moving vehicles – not parked ones. However, some specific considerations still apply:

  • The presence of open containers in a parked vehicle can provide probable cause to investigate the driver for suspected drunk driving if the vehicle appears to have been recently operating.
  • Passengers riding in a legally parked vehicle cannot be cited for open container possession alone. The owner/operator assumes responsibility for the infraction if the vehicle is set in motion.
  • Open container laws have no jurisdiction on private property such as residential driveways or gated communities. However, other local regulations may still apply.
  • Special care should be taken in public parking areas. Open containers stored out of reach of the driver may be permitted, but could still prompt further investigation.

In summary, while the Indiana law itself does not apply to parked vehicles per se, prudent precautions are still advised. Waiting until safely off the road and at home before opening alcoholic drinks is the most cautious option.


Indiana’s open container statute provides a legal framework to help combat drunk driving and enhance public welfare. The law’s effects are maximized when all Hoosier motorists maintain compliance and encourage safe practices by passengers. Proper understanding of this law allows residents to exercise good judgement without fear of accidentally running afoul of the regulation.

In closing, some key principles for the road regarding open containers are:

  • Never place open alcoholic drinks within immediate reach of the driver while operating a motor vehicle.
  • Proactively store any alcoholic containers in sealed compartments or spaces outside the passenger seating area before moving the vehicle.
  • Educate any passengers in your vehicle about the open container law to ensure cooperation.
  • If you’ve been drinking, avoid operating a vehicle altogether until completely sober.

Judicious adherence to Indiana’s open container statute keeps the roads safer while protecting conscientious motorists from unintended legal issues. The simplest and most prudent advice for the road is that mixing open alcohol containers and moving vehicles is never advisable anywhere public byways are concerned.