Open containers banned in Montana

| 4/28/2005

Gov. Brian Schweitzer has signed a bill into law that outlaws drinking by motor vehicle passengers in Montana. It takes effect this fall.

Under current Montana 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 new law, previously SB80, eliminates the provision by banning consumption and possession of open containers of alcohol in vehicles traveling public roadways.

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

Montana Highway Patrol Lt. Col. Mike Tooley told the Missoulian authorities would spend the summer educating motorists on the new law. Starting Oct. 1, violators will receive tickets for as much as $100. No points would be added to a driver’s license and insurance companies cannot hike drivers’ rates if they are convicted of an open container violation.

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

In the past two years, Montana was forced to divert $5.6 million of federal highway money.

Mississippi now is the only state that doesn’t have some kind of open container law, the newspaper reported.

Thirty-nine states, including Montana, have open container laws that meet the federal standard. Nine others have container laws that fall short of the federal order.