Wyoming Senate passes tougher open container provision

| 2/4/2005

Passengers in cars would no longer be allowed to drink alcohol in Wyoming if a bill approved by the state Senate becomes law.

The measure would close what supporters view as a loophole in state law.

Under Wyoming law, drivers are barred from having an open container of alcohol, but passengers 21 years of age or older are not. Supporters say the law is difficult to enforce because a driver can just hand a container to a passenger if pulled over.

The Senate passed the container ban Jan. 28 by a vote of 23-7. It has been forwarded to the House for consideration.

The bill – SF8 – sponsored by Sen.-elect Tony Ross, R-Cheyenne, wouldn’t apply to recreational vehicles, charter buses or limousines.

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

Last year, that distinction forced the state to divert 3 percent, or about $1 million, of its highway construction budget and 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.”

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.