Open container law redirects Wyoming road dollars

| 12/10/2004

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

Legislation proposed in the Wyoming Senate would add the ban to state law.

The state is one of about a dozen nationwide that allows open alcohol containers in vehicles; last year, that distinction forced Wyoming to divert 3 percent of its highway construction budget to be put it to other uses.

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 drunken driving checkpoints and installing cables in medians to prevent crossover accidents.

“It’s not designed as a punishment but it is a transfer from one use to another,” Tim Hurd, a spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said recently. “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 Wyoming law, drivers are prohibited from having an open alcoholic beverage, but passengers 21 years of age or older are free to drink while in a moving vehicle.

A proposal by Rep.-elect Tony Ross, R-Cheyenne, and Rep. Jane Warren, D-Laramie, would ban consumption and possession of open containers of alcohol in vehicles traveling public roadways.

The bill – SF8 – wouldn’t apply to recreational vehicles, charter buses or limousines.

Despite the funding incentive, Ross told The Associated Press the main reason he introduced the bill is for added safety on the state’s roadways.

“If there are federal dollars attached to this thing, so be it,” Ross said. “I think that’s just another reason to pass it.