Open-container law redirects Louisiana highway funds

| 4/26/2004

Louisiana is being forced to spend a chunk of its federal highway dollars on traffic safety because the state doesn’t have a ban on open containers of alcohol in vehicles.

The state is one of only 14 nationwide that allows open alcohol containers in vehicles; last year, that distinction pulled 3 percent out of the highway construction budget and put it to other uses, according to a published report.

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

“It’s not designed as a punishment, but it is a transfer from one use to another,” said Tim Hurd, a spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “If safety is diminished by the fact they don’t have an open-container law, some funds have to be used for enforcement programs or the reduction of hazards.”

Under Louisiana law, drivers are prohibited from having an open alcoholic beverage, but passengers are free to drink while in the vehicle.

A bill – SB341 – sponsored by Sen. Joel Chaisson II, D-Destrehan, would eliminate the open container provision in state law, although exceptions would be made for limousines, parade trucks and floats. It passed the Senate 38-0 April 19 and has been forwarded to the House.