An effort in the Virginia House to toughen the state’s open container law
has failed passage.
Prior to the close of the session, the House Militia, Police and Public
Safety Committee decided against forwarding a bill to add a ban on open
containers of alcohol in vehicles to state law.
As a result, Virginia will continue to be forced to spend a portion of its federal
highway money on traffic safety.
state is one of about a dozen nationwide that allows open alcohol containers in
vehicles; last year, that distinction forced Virginia to divert 3 percent, or
about $9 million, of its highway construction budget and put it to other
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
“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 Virginia 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
The bill, sponsored by Delegate
Harry Purkey, R-Virginia Beach, would have fined a person $25 if an
officer caught him or her with an open container of alcohol in the front of a
Law enforcement officials favored the stricter law, but the committee
Lawmakers who voted in opposition of the proposal cited concerns it would
discourage designated drivers from transporting drinkers.