Open container bill advances in Indiana

| 3/25/2005

An Indiana Senate panel has approved legislation that would hold drivers responsible for open containers of alcohol found in the passenger sections of vehicles traveling public roadways. The bill would also free up millions in federal dollars for improving Indiana roads.

The Senate Public Policy Committee voted on March 22 to approve an amended version of a bill previously passed by the House. The House version called for fining passengers, not drivers, $25 for drinking alcohol in a moving vehicle.

Exceptions would be made for passengers in limousines and recreational vehicles.

Sen. Tom Wyss, head of the Senate panel, said holding the driver responsible is key because passengers drinking in the back seat could discard a drink if the vehicle is pulled over. No one would admit having the open container, he told The Associated Press, making the law difficult to enforce.

“The driver is responsible for his vehicle,” said Wyss, R-Fort Wayne.

Current state law allows passengers to drink in a vehicle so long as the driver’s blood-alcohol content doesn’t exceed 0.04 percent.

That law, however, does not meet federal guidelines for open container restrictions. As a result, Indiana is one of 14 states being forced to spend a portion of its federal highway money on traffic safety.

The federal government mandated in 2001 that states pass the stricter provision or spend a percentage of federal highway dollars on public safety projects.

Last year, $15.2 million in transportation money was used for alcohol programs, The Associated Press reported. The state has diverted $65 million from roads since fiscal year 2001 because of the lack of an open container law.

The bill, which previously passed the House, now moves to the full Senate for further debate. If given the OK there, HB1057 would be sent back to the House for final approval before heading to Gov. Mitch Daniels.