Open container bill OK'd by Indiana Senate

| 4/13/2005

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, 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.

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 out differences.