Open container proposal nixed in Arkansas

| 1/28/2005

An Arkansas House panel rejected a proposal that would prohibit passengers in vehicles from riding with open containers of alcohol.

State law now prohibits drivers from having an open alcoholic beverage, but passengers over 21 are free to drink while in the vehicle.

The bill, offered by Rep. Shirley Borhauer, R-Bella Vista, wouldn’t apply to passengers in taxis, limousines and other “for hire” transportation.

During the House Rules Committee meeting Jan. 19, several lawmakers said they had problems with the bill, the Arkansas News Bureau reported.

“Up in my part of the country, a lot of fellas, after work or whatever, will be (drinking) on the backroads and gravel roads and wherever else, and occasionally they’ll put those open containers in the back of their pickup. Is this prohibited?” asked Rep. Wayne Nichols, D-Marked Tree.

Borhauer said she thought the bill – HB1069 – would prohibit open containers thrown into the bed of pickups.

Rep. Bob Mathis, D-Hot Springs, asked about open bottles of some mouthwashes, which contain alcohol.

“Yes, if you’re drinking it,” Borhauer said.

Later, Randy Ort, spokesman for the state Highway and Transportation Department, said the state has been restricted in how it can spend about $21 million since 2001. That’s when the federal government began penalizing states that didn’t have open container laws. Ort said the state is required to spend a portion of its federal highway money on safety projects such as installing cables to prevent crossover accidents and drunken driving checkpoints.

A similar bill in 2003 failed to make it out of committee. Sen. Sue Madison, D-Fayetteville, said at the time that such a law is unnecessary because it’s drunk drivers, not passengers, who cause harm.