The Indiana Senate has approved a bill 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 voted 34-15 March 29 to approve an amended
version of the bill previously passed by the House. The House version called
for fining passengers, not drivers, 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 that made the
change, said holding the driver responsible is key because passengers drinking
in the back seat could discard a drink if the vehicle was 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,
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
This year in Indiana, $18.6 million must be diverted from
road funding for drunken-driving enforcement programs, The Indianapolis Star reported. The state has diverted $65 million from roads since fiscal year 2001.
The bill now heads back to the House for approval of Senate
changes. If given the OK there, HB1057 would go to Gov. Mitch Daniels. If the
House refuses to agree, the House and Senate would appoint conferees to work