Wyoming Senate rejects open container provision

| 2/25/2005

The Wyoming Senate on Feb. 22 voted down changes the House made to toughen the state’s open container law.

The vote was 28-2 against the House version, with some senators expressing concerns about a couple of provisions added to the bill.

One change would have applied the law only to vehicles in motion.

Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, said the House language could provide difficulty for troopers who pull over a driver on suspicion of drinking and driving.

If the officer stops the vehicle, the law might no longer apply, Scott argued.

The bill, approved 37-21 by the House earlier in the day, would ban consumption and possession of open containers of alcohol in vehicles traveling public roadways in the state.

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 the container to a passenger if pulled over.

The original version of the bill didn’t apply to charter buses, limousines or recreational vehicles. Senators objected to a House amendment to drop RVs from the exemption list.

A special joint committee is expected to try to work out differences on the bill – SF8 – that would free up millions in federal dollars for improving Wyoming roads.

The state 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.”