Effort to ban open containers dies in Virginia

| 4/2/2008

A bill in the Virginia House has died that sought to ban consumption and possession of open containers of alcohol in vehicles traveling public roadways. The bill would also have freed up millions in federal dollars for improving roads.

Sponsored by Delegate Harry Purkey, R-Virginia Beach, the measure – HB27 – remained in the House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee at the deadline to advance to the chamber floor, effectively killing it.

Virginia law now prohibits drivers from having an open alcoholic beverage, but passengers 21 years of age or older are free to drink while in the vehicle. The bill called for eliminating the open container provision for passengers. Violators would have faced $25 fines.

It included exceptions for passengers in RVs, buses and limousines.

The bill also would have allowed the state more freedom for how to use federal highway dollars. The state is being forced to spend a portion of its federal funding on traffic safety because the state doesn’t have a ban on open containers of alcohol in vehicles.

The state is one of about a dozen nationwide that allow passengers to drink. Last year, that distinction forced state officials to pull 3 percent, or about $9 million, out of its highway construction budget and put it to other uses.

The federal government mandated in 2001 that states either pass the provision or spend a percentage of federal highway dollars on public safety projects, such as drunken driving checkpoints and installing cables in medians to prevent crossover accidents.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Virginia, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor