Open container ban advances in Montana

| 3/15/2005

Montana’s attempt to outlaw drinking by motor vehicle passengers is closer to becoming law.

House lawmakers have approved a bill that would ban alcohol consumption and possession of open containers of alcohol in vehicles traveling public roadways.

Under state 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.

The House voted 78-18 on March 4 to forward the bill – HB91 – to the Senate for further consideration. A similar bill passed the Senate at the end of January, 45-5.

Sponsored by Rep. Christopher Harris, D-Bozeman, and Sen. Gary Perry, R-Manhattan, the bills would eliminate the open container provision.

Violators would be fined up to $100. No points would be added to a driver’s license.

Exceptions would be made for passengers in campers, motor homes, buses, taxis or limousines.

The effort to ban open containers of alcohol in vehicles is spurred by the federal government’s mandate that states pass the provision 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.

This year, that would mean $6 million less for Montana roads if the open-container provision fails to pass.

Perry’s bill – SB80 – is almost identical to Harris’ except it specifies that insurance companies cannot hike drivers’ rates if they are convicted of an open container violation. The bill also states that violating the law does not constitute a criminal offense.

It is in the House Judiciary Committee.